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Alternate History Story: The 2003 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs

By: Alex Patt

October 14th, 2003. The Chicago Cubs have won the National League Pennant for the first time since 1945. Mark Prior threw a gem in the clinching sixth game of the NLCS and the team cruised to a 3-1 victory, despite things getting a little scary in the eighth inning. The Cubs have not won a World Series in 95 years (1908).

The story of the 2003 World Series: Chicago Cubs vs. New York Yankees

Those damn Yankees again. While the Cubs prepared to play in their first World Series since World War II, the Bronx Bombers were going to play in their sixth since 1996. The Yankees had beaten the Boston Red Sox in seven to clinch the pennant thanks to a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone, continuing the “Curse of the Bambino”. They featured a team of Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera.

This Cubs team had surprised people all year long. Not many people had the Cubs being contenders in 2003, but here they were in the World Series. The team was highlighted by young phenom pitcher Mark Prior, along with the likes of Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Alex S. Gonzalez, Joe Borowski and others.

Dusty Baker’s boys were not afraid of the Bronx Bombers despite being underdogs. An 88-win Cubs team vs. a 101-win Yankees team. The journey to the top of the mountain would begin on the evening of October 18th at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Game 1: October 18, 2003. Yankee Stadium. 7:06 PM CDT

Kerry Wood vs. David Wells

The series kicked off with Woody starting for the Cubs. His last start came against the Marlins in Game 3 of the NLCS where he got a no-decision, so he was well rested. Veteran David Wells would go for the Yankees.

No scoring be either team in the first two innings, but in the bottom of the third the Yankees put men on the corners with two outs. Yankees OF Bernie Williams hit a single through the hole between third and short to give them a 1-0 lead. Wood was able to get out of the inning without allowing any more runs. The Cubs went down in order in the top of the fourth and fifth before the Yankees came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. After two walks and a sacrifice on the infield, the Yankees increased the lead to 3-0 with an RBI double in the right field corner by Hideki Matsui. Wood got out of the inning with strikeouts of Jorge Posada and Karim Garcia.

In the top of the sixth the Cubs got on the board. A two-run shot by Alex Gonzalez around the left field foul pole off Wells to score him and Erik Karros made it a one-run game. The Yankees responded in the bottom of the frame with a solo-shot by Alfonso Soriano off Wood to make it 4-2. Wood was pulled after 5.2 innings, giving up four earned on eight hits and three walks. Nothing happened for the Cubs or Yankees in the seventh inning. Mike Remlinger pitched a scoreless frame. With Dave Veres on the mound for the Cubs in the eighth, he got two quick outs before it got ugly when the Yankees scored a run on a passed ball, followed by an RBI single by Nick Johnson (Mark Guthrie relieved Veres) to make it 6-2. Guthrie got the last batter to pop out, but the damage was done.

The Cubs threatened in the top of the ninth by putting two on with one out with hits by Damian Miller and Kenny Lofton. Rivera was warming in the Yankees pen in case things started to get way out of hand. Mark Grudzielanek grounded out to the pitcher and Sammy Sosa struck out to end the game, keeping Rivera in the bullpen.

Final: Yankees 6 – Cubs 2

Wells (W) – Wood (L)

Game 2: October 19, 2003. Yankee Stadium. 7:00 CDT

(Yankees lead series 1-0)

Mark Prior vs. Andy Pettitte

It was time for the 22-year old Mark Prior to take the mound for the first time in a World Series game. Not an easy task against postseason hero Andy Pettitte in New York.

In the top of the first, the Cubs jumped on Pettitte. Kenny Lofton hit a leadoff double in the gap, Mark Grudzielanek walked, Sammy Sosa walked, Moises Alou hit a sac fly to center to score Lofton, Aramis Ramirez hit an RBI single to score Grudzielanek, and Randall Simon hit a sac fly to left to score Sosa. Prior got a 3-0 lead before throwing a pitch. In the first inning he gave up a hit to Derek Jeter but struck everyone else out.

Pettitte began to settle in and kept the Cubs off the board in the second, third, and forth innings. Prior would get into some trouble in the third inning as he put the first two Yankees on, but he got out of it with a double play ball and a strikeout of Jason Giambi. In the top of the fifth the Cubs added a run on an Alou RBI double in the left-center gap to score Sosa, who went from first to home and just got under Jorge Posada’s tag at the plate. The Yankees got to Prior in the bottom of the inning with a solo homer by Hideki Matsui, but he struck out two more in the inning.

It remained 4-1 going into the bottom of the seventh with Prior still pitching. He was running out of steam and got a visit from Baker on the mound after putting on two with one out, but he remained in. Juan Rivera drove in two with a double and all of the sudden it was 4-3 with one out. Prior’s night was done at 6.1 IP and three earned runs on six hits and eight strikeouts.

Dusty called to Kyle Farnsworth to face Alfonso Soriano and Jeter, and his call payed off as he struck out Soriano on a 97 MPH heater and got Jeter to flyout to left. The Cubs got a run back in the top of the eighth with an RBI double by Aramis Ramirez. The Yankees would go six up, six down in the final two innings with closer Joe Borowski pitching in the ninth, who struck out Giambi to win the game.

Final: Cubs 5 – Yankees 3

Prior (W) – Pettitte (L) – Borowski (S)

Game 3: October 21, 2003. Wrigley Field. 7:10 CDT

(Series Tied at 1)

Carlos Zambrano vs. Mike Mussina

The series shifted to Wrigley Field for the third game. Chicago was electric for the first World Series game in Wrigleyville since 1945. The bars and streets were packed with fans pounding on Thundersticks and waiving towels. Young Carlos Zambrano would go up against veteran Mike Mussina.

Zambrano’s first pitch of the game to Alfonso Soriano was a strike and the ball was thrown to the dugout to be saved. The cheers turned to groans quickly as Soriano ended up mashing the 0-1 pitch out of the park and onto Waveland Avenue for a leadoff home run. He then allowed two singles, prompting an early mound visit. He battled back and got a big strikeout of Bernie Williams and a double play ball off Hideki Matsui’s bat to end the inning.

Mussina set down the first nine Cubs he faced, striking out five. Zambrano in the meantime settled in and allowed one hit, one walk and no runs in the second, third, and forth innings. In the bottom of the forth the Cubs finally got the offense going. Paul Bako singled to lead off the frame and a few batters later with two outs, Mark Grudzielanek singled to bring up Sosa. On a 3-2 pitch, Sosa swung and drove one the other way to deep right. The crowd rose, Sosa hopped, and the ball landed in the third row of the bleachers just to the left of the well. 3-1 Cubs lead.

Zambrano working with the lead set down the Yankees in order in fifth, as did Mussina in the bottom of the frame. It remained a 3-1 game going into the seventh. Zambrano got Aaron Boone and PH Nick Johnson easily, but Soriano singled and Derek Jeter came up as the tying run. On a 1-2 pitch Jeter drove it to the wall in straight away center and over the head of a leaping Lofton and into the ivy, Soriano was able to score to make it 3-2. Jason Giambi then walked to put two on and two out. Williams on a 0-1 pitch just got under it and flew out to the well in deep right to end the frame.

Top of the eighth and still up 3-2, Dusty Baker called on Kyle Farnsworth to come in. Zambrano’s night was done as he went seven innings and gave up two earned runs. He gave up a one-out double to Jorge Posada and then a game-tying RBI single to Karim Garcia. The game remained tied at three going to the bottom of the ninth thanks to Borowski’s pitching efforts and the final out recorded on a great diving stop at first by Eric Karros who came in for defense.

Joe Torre decided to bring in Mariano Rivera to try to get to extras. Leading off the inning was Moises Alou. The veteran left fielder would shock the world when he swung at the very first pitch and drove it into the left-center bleachers. Wrigley Field shook as beer, towels, and hats flew into the air to the sounds of a deafening roar. Alou’s teammates mobbed him at home as the Cubs won their first World Series game since 1945.

Pat Hughes on WGN Radio: “The first pitch to Alou…Alou hits a HIGH FLY BALL! DEEP LEFT! THIS BALL’S GOT A CHAAAAAAAANCE CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!”

Final: Cubs 4 – Yankees 3

Game 4: October 22, 2003. Wrigley Field. 7:15 CDT

(Cubs lead series 2-1)

Matt Clement vs. Roger Clemens

Back in June the Yankees had come to to Wrigley and Clemens was trying to win his 300th game, but the Cubs ended up winning that game. It would be his revenge game on a very cool night in Chicago. The wind was howling in from center.

It started as a true pitcher’s duel as neither team got on base the first three innings. Matt Clement got some groundball outs while Clemens struck out six of the first nine hitters he faced. Sammy Sosa was the first hitter to reach base for the Cubs in the forth but nothing afterwards.

Things got ugly for the Cubs in the top of the fifth. After a tough error by Aramis Ramirez and a double by Aaron Boone, Clement hit Clemens to load the bases with nobody out. Soriano struck out, but Derek Jeter hit a sac fly to make it 1-0 Yankees. After a walk, Bernie Williams cleared the bases with a double off the ivy to make it 4-0. Clement did end the inning, but he would be replaced by Antonio Alfonseca in the sixth.

Meanwhile Clemens kept rolling. He set down the Cubs in order in the fifth, sixth, and seventh. In the top of the eighth, Matsui hit a solo home run off Mike Remlinger to make it 5-0. The only other hit for the Cubs was a pinch-hit double in the rightfield corner by Troy O’Leary in the bottom of the eighth.

Clemens pitched eight innings and struck out ten Cubs and gave up only two hits. Chris Hammond finished the game for the Yankees, getting Ramirez to ground out to third to end the game.

Final: Yankees 5 – Cubs 0

Game 5: October 23, 2003. Wrigley Field. 6:45 CDT

(Series tied at two)

Kerry Wood vs. David Wells

Wood did not have the greatest performance in the first game but he was looking for redemption in Game 5.

After a scoreless first by Wood, the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of the first looking to give their starter an early lead. Kenny Lofton walked to lead off and with two outs Moises Alou reached on a throwing error by Jorge Posada on a slow dribbler. Aramis Ramirez would single to center to give the Cubs an early 1-0 lead. This would prove to be the deciding run.

Wood would strike out six batters and only give up two hits over the next four innings. The two hits belonged to Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, both singles. Meanwhile, David Wells got into some trouble in the forth inning as put two on and one out, but got Eric Karros to ground into a double play to end the threat. It also looked like the Cubs were going to add more in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with two outs but Sammy Sosa lined out to left.

In the top of the sixth Wood walked the leadoff man but then struck out the next two hitters and then got Hideki Matsui to fly out to the warning track in right. Wood continued to pitch in the seventh and retired the first two hitters before walking Boone and allowing a pinch hit double to Jason Giambi, who was on the bench due to ankle soreness and no DH. Baker left Wood in and he went on to strikeout Soriano on a nasty curveball. Cubs fan Bill Murray sang the Seventh Inning Stretch, as it would be the final game at Wrigley Field no matter what happened.

Once again the Cubs got runners on base in the bottom of the inning, but could not score. Bako had singled and was taken out for pinch runner Doug Glanville as Baker tried to be aggressive to get an insurance run (Damian Miller came in to catch) but the Cubs could not score. Still 1-0 with six outs between the Cubs and a 3-2 series lead.

Wood took the mound in the eighth, and it got off to a great start. He struck out Jeter on a 3-2 high fastball at 98 MPH. After a walk he got a double play ball on a hard hit ball to Gonzalez at short to end the inning. Wood jumped, yelled, and pumped his fist as the crowd went absolutely nuts. He finished with eight shutout innings at 129 pitches and nine strikeouts. Cubs did nothing with the bats in the bottom of the frame, it was off to the ninth up 1-0 still.

Borowski came in again to get the save. Matsui singled to lead off, but Posada flied out, Karim Garcia grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Boone struck out to end it. The Cubs were one win away from a title.

Final: Cubs 1 – Yankees 0

Wood (W) – Wells (L) – Borowski (S)

Game 6: October 25, 2003. Yankee Stadium. 7:05 CDT

(Cubs lead series 3-2)

Mark Prior vs. Andy Pettitte

Dusty Baker had no plans of playing a seventh game, he was ready to win it all in six. Thousands of Cubs fans filled the stands at Yankee Stadium and cheered loudly during Bob Sheppard’s lineup announcements. Almost half of the fans in the stands were wearing Cubs blue.

Andy Pettitte, looking to redeem his rough first outing in Game 2, faced Kenny Lofton leading off. On a 3-1 pitch, Lofton skied the ball to deep center. Bernie Williams gave chase but it was over his head and over the wall for a home run. One batter in, 1-0 Cubs. Pettitte got out of the jam retiring the next three but it was still a great start for the Cubs.

Prior had pitched a lot in the postseason but he was ready to give his all. He retired the Yankees in order in the first, including making Derek Jeter look foolish on a breaking ball. 24 outs to go.

Pettitte pitched a scoreless second, as did Prior. There was a bit of a scare for the Cubs when Jorge Posada flew to deep left, but it hung up long enough for Tom Goodwin to track it down and haul it in at the wall. 21 outs to go.

In the top of the third, Goodwin doubled down the right field line to lead off. Paul Bako moved him over on a grounder to set up Lofton again in an RBI chance. He promptly hit a sacrifice fly to left to bring Goodwin home. 2-0 Cubs. Pettitte retired the next two. Prior came back and struck out the first two hitters before giving up a double to Alfonso Soriano. He would be stranded as Jeter hit a bullet to second, but Mark Grudzielanek made a great backhanded play to retire him. 18 outs to go.

Top of the forth Pettitte faced Moises Alou (who was DH) with one away. On a 1-2 pitch, Moises Alou crushed the ball to left and way out of the park. 3-0 Cubs. He then hit Aramis Ramirez but did not allow another run and it remained 3-0. Prior went back to the mound and struck out Nick Johnson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui in order. 15 outs to go.

Top of the fifth Pettitte retired the side, striking out Paul Bako and Lofton. Prior started the bottom of the inning retiring Posada on a groundout before facing Jason Giambi. On a 1-1 pitch, Giambi turned on a Prior fastball and hit it into the rightfield upper deck for a solo shot. 3-1 Yankees. However Prior kept his composure and retired the next two. 12 outs to go.

Top of the sixth Sammy Sosa would lead off. He had not had a particularly great series outside the big home run he hit in Game 3. Pettitte had him 0-2 before he battled back to 3-2. On a 3-2 pitch that hung in the zone, Sosa crushed it to left. He hopped, skipped, and it was long gone. 4-1 Cubs. The Cubs fans cheering at Yankee Stadium drowned out the boos from the Yankees fans as he rounded the bases. Ramirez would double later in the inning but would not score. Bottom of the sixth Prior pitched another 1-2-3 inning, which was highlighted by a great diving catch by Lofton in center to rob Jeter of a hit. 9 outs to go.

Top of the seventh Pettitte went out to start the inning with activity in the pen. With one out, Bako singled to center, and Pettitte’s night came to an end. Jose Contreras came in to try to keep it a three run game. Contreras would get a double play ball off Lofton to end the frame. Prior entered the seventh and gave up a single to Williams but struck out Matsui and Posada to end the frame. He was up to 10 strikeouts and was cruising right along. 6 outs to go.

Joe Torre brought in Mariano Rivera to try to give them a fighting chance. It was likely he was going to throw two innings. Mo did what he did and dominated the frame, striking out two and getting Sosa to shatter his bat on a groundout. Bottom of the eighth, Prior was still out there. Giambi, who homered off him earlier, would lead off and eventually strike out on a curve. With two outs, Aaron Boone and Soriano both reached on a hit and walk. Suddenly the tying run was up in Jeter. The Yankee fans came alive and Cubs fans held on for dear life. Baker went to the mound as the “Derek Jeter!” chants began. Prior convinced Baker to stay in as Kyle Farnsworth got up in the pen. It was 3-2 on Jeter, Prior threw him a breaking ball which he rolled over to short and Alex Gonzalez fed to second for the force to end the inning. 3 outs to go.

Top of the ninth and Mo still in, Ramirez stepped to the plate. He doubled to right to lead off and made it to third on an errant throw. Eric Karros had come in for Simon defensively and was in his spot in the order. With the infield in, Karros hit a popfly to shallow center that dropped in for an RBI single. 5-1 Cubs. Mo then retired the next three in order to send it to the bottom of the ninth. Three. More. Outs.

Prior was at 117 pitches, which was great for all the strikeouts but he had gotten a lot of his contact outs early in counts and was efficient with command. Joe Borowski and Farnsworth were throwing in the Cubs pen. Ruben Sierra would pinch hit, then Williams and Hideki Matsui to follow. Prior got Sierra to 0-2 before he would single to lead off the inning. Uh oh…

“Lets go Yankees!” “Lets go Cubbies” could be heard going back and forth in the stands.

Prior, still in, faced Williams. He got him to fly to Lofton in center, one down. Then he walked Matsui to put two on and one out. Baker came out of the dugout and called for his closer. The Cubs fans in the stands gave a big cheer for Prior as he went to the dugout. Borowski in. He went 3-0 to Posada, but got it to 3-2 and eventually he struck out on a high fastball. Two away. Giambi was the final hitter. Borowski threw him a mix of fastballs and breaking balls to get the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, the slugger swung and skied the ball high to right. Sosa drifted under, waited…waited…caught. Game over. World Series over. CUBS WIN!

Final: Cubs 5 – Yankees 1

The celebration.

The Cubs mobbed each other near the pitcher’s mound as flashbulbs went off all around Yankee Stadium. Sosa had his right arm in the air and holding is index finger in a “number one” sign on top of the pile.

The WGN Radio Call:

Pat Hughes: “The 2-2 pitch, a high popfly to right. Sosa is drifting underneath he’s…GOT IT! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! The Cubs are the World Champs! All of the Cubs mobbing each other near the mound! The celebration begins!”

As thousands of Cubs fans remained at the stadium to see their team be presented with the World Series trophy, the streets in Wrigleyville were mobbed with people celebrating. Back on the field, Dusty Baker and Mark Prior were lifted by their teammates and carried around the diamond. Sammy Sosa blew kisses to all the fans in the stands as he wore his champagne soaked championship shirt over his uniform. Sitting all alone on the pitcher’s mound soaking it in was Kerry Wood. He remembered his journey the majors, his highs and lows with injuries, and how he had finally reached the top of the mountain.

Later in the Yankee Stadium visitor’s clubhouse, the team was spraying more champagne on each other when the phone rang. GM Jim Hendry picked up and on the line was Ron Santo. Ronnie could not call the postseason with Pat Hughes because of his illness, but he watched every second he could with his family.

“GEE whiz am I proud of all of you,” Santo said with tears in his eyes. “I dreamed of this day and I cannot believe it finally happened!”

Ernie Banks walked over and Hendry handed the phone over to him. Nobody knew what they talked about, but Banks was on the phone with his longtime teammate and friend for over 20 minutes. The smile on the face of Mr. Cub was bigger and brighter than ever before.

The celebration in Chicago went into the night.

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