Cubs pitcher Shawn Estes says he had a bad feeling about Game 6 of the 2003… (Phil Velasquez / Chicago…)
Ten years ago this month, fans came as close to seeing the Cubs in the World Series as they’d been in six decades. Then the eighth inning of Game 6 in the National League Championship Series happened, setting off a catastrophic chapter in Chicago sports history.
Why relive the Bartman game? Because it’s a “where were you when … “ moment. Whether you blame him to this day or always believe he was a victim of overreaction, you’ve got an opinion. And even though it knocked Cubs fans down, they just keep getting back up.
Which makes this the perfect time to check in with those who lived it. Not only because it’s a key moment in Cubs lore, but because it gives everyone a chance to ask: With the Cubs so far away from winning it all, do you still believe in them?
In 2003, pitcher Shawn Estes followed his former Giants manager, Dusty Baker, to Chicago to play for the Cubs as their fifth starter. After a rough season (8-11, 5.73 ERA), the left-handed veteran found himself a spectator during the first two rounds of the playoffs. He shared his Game 6 story with RedEye.
I wasn't on the roster for those two series [Atlanta and Florida]. I knew I wasn't going to start, but I wanted to just be in the bullpen and have a chance to pitch. And Dusty said that, "If we go to the Series and the Yankees is the team we play, you'll be on the roster because they have more lefties." The Marlins were a more right-handed dominant lineup, but the Yankees had more lefties in there, so I was really wanting to get to the World Series. For, you know, selfish reasons, I wanted to be on the roster, and also I wanted to have a chance to win a World Series.
So I was watching these games with no pressure at all. Just as a fan. And after we lost Game 5, I said to [general manager Jim] Hendry before we got on the bus, "At least we can go home and celebrate in front of our home fans." And he said, "I would rather have won tonight." [Laughs.]
Meaning he would rather have won Game 5 against [pitcher Josh] Beckett. He just wanted to get it over with. Because I think in the back of everybody's mind everybody still felt that anything could happen. The Cubs haven't had the best luck in the last 100 years. So when you have your chance to kick a team when they're down or kind of put the nail in the coffin, you want to do it. You don't want it to be the perfect scenario, you know what I'm saying?
Which would have been unbelievable. To come home and have Prior on the mound and be able to celebrate going to a World Series in front of your hometown—that would have been storybook.
But I remember saying that to Hendry when we got on the bus. And I'm thinking, I can't be the only person thinking that we're going to win one of these next two, and we're probably going to win Game 6. The Marlins had already used their best guy in Beckett. Nobody had really pitched well for them other than maybe [Chris] Redman. And here we have [Mark] Prior and we're facing [Carl] Pavano, you know? He pitched well, but we still thought we were going to beat him.
I felt really good about [Game 6] until the top of the eighth inning. I've got a story about that deal. Like I said, I wasn't pitching, so I was in uni but I was on the bench. We're winning three to zip. Prior's just filthy, as usual. And I'm just thinking about how frickin' awesome it's going to be to go to the World Series.
I went up to go to the bathroom. Clubhouse through the dugout is really close at Wrigley. I think it was after we scored in the seventh to make it 3-zip. I went up between the seventh and the eighth inning to the bathroom, and they had already set up for the postgame celebration. All the lockers are covered. They had the podium set up. They had the champagne on ice.
I just remember thinking—my brain was telling me we were going to win this thing, but my gut was saying, "This is just too early to do. You can't do this right now. You got six outs to go." Yeah, we have a guy who is just flat out dealing on the mound, but there's still six outs to go. A lot can happen. You cannot assume we're going to win this thing.
I just had this feeling in the pit of my stomach when I walked back down to the dugout. It was like, "Gosh, they better not have jinxed us." We're all pretty superstitious that way. Whatever the scenario might be: a no-hitter, winning a game, a chance to go to the World Series. You just don't want anything out of the ordinary to happen and jinx you. You want to keep it all – you want to stay under the radar with all that. But I just remember walking up and thinking, "I really wish they didn't set up so early." And then I went down and watched the eighth inning unravel.
By the time you guys got back after the game, was the locker room still all done up?