Here we are, in a Cubs baseball season that was deposited into the septic tank of history approximately 150 days ago. If you can name the Cubs current starting rotation, well, that’s just sad. Get a life. The Cubs underperformed major-league caliber baseball again today, but let’s forget about that and find something else to think about. We could celebrate the 172nd birthday of Thomas Nast by smashing piñatas in the form of GOP elephants and Democratic Donkeys (because Santa Claus and Uncle Sam should never be piñatas). We could muster as much excitement as possible over Saturday night’s Toledo-Western Michigan game. We could lament the loss of the NHL preseason. Or, we could reflect on how, only 9 years and 2 days ago, the Cubs had one of their best days in history.
On the morning of Sept 27, 2003, the Cubs were half a game in front of Houston for the NL Central lead, with 3 games left to play. They had to play a double header against Pittsburgh because the previous night’s game was rained out. Mark Prior started game 1 and would eventually go 6.2 innings, striking out 10, on his way to win #18 and a lifetime of arm trouble. He only threw 133 pitches that day which was OK, because he only threw 131 in his previous outing, so he was rested. Kyle Farnsworth and one of my all-time favorite Cubs, Joe Borowski, closed out the game. The score was 4-2. Josh Fogg took the loss. The offensive star was Situational Hitting, in a cameo appearance in Cubs history, as the Cubs scored 2 runs on sac flies and one on a bases-loaded ground out to short. The other run came on a Damien Miller home run, his last as a Cub. As the game was winding down, Houston lost to Milwaukee, setting up game 2 as the clincher.
It was a damn-good Pittsburgh team though (after all, they won 75 games in 2003), so a double-header sweep was unlikely. I have a distinct memory of the feeling of dread that the Cubs would be unable to sweep. Odds and Cubbishness argued for a split.
Game 2 featured the Bearded Wonder against Ryan Vogelsong, in the 7th start of his career. Turned out to be one of his shortest too–he lasted only 1.1 innings and gave up 6 runs. All the Cubs had to do was hold on and they’d clinch the division championship. Sosa hit his 40th HR and Moises Alou hit his 22nd. No one shook Alou’s hand after his jack though. Matt Clement cruised, giving up no runs, 5 hits, and 1 BB through 7 before a run-scoring triple and a passed ball. The Cubs won 7-2. Despite the offensive explosion, no Cub batter had more than one hit or run-scored, and Mark GrudF7 had the most RBI for the game; two. I guess Situational Hitting stuck around for a nightcap. Even Koyie Hill, I mean Paul Bako, had an RBI and run scored on 1 for 3 hitting.
Riding the momentum of their division-clinching double header, the Cubs lost the next day but beat Atlanta in 5 games in the Division Series. I’m not really sure what happened after that.