Ten years ago Monday, 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 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?
The Cubs have had many horrific occurrences throughout their history, but none resonates with fans quite like Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series.
After losing Game 1 at Wrigley 9-8 in extra innings, the Cubs won the next three games to take a 3-1 series lead. They were shut out in Game 5 and returned to Wrigley for a sixth and possibly seventh game. On the mound would be their two aces: Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Game 6 is immortalized as "The Bartman Game," but was Steve Bartman really to blame? In honor of the 10-year anniversary of that game, RedEye spoke with Mark Prior and Paul Bako, the Cubs starting pitcher and catcher in Game 6.
PRIOR: We [Prior and Wood] definitely had confidence in ourselves and in our abilities. But it was never like, "We got it, no big deal." We knew we were in for a fight. We knew we needed to go out there and execute our pitches if we wanted to put ourselves in a position to win. The Marlins did what they did in the regular season by not giving up in battle till the end, so we knew we were still in a pretty intense dogfight.
BAKO: We had all the faith and confidence in the world in Mark. We knew, we all knew, and I bet you he knew as well, that without a doubt he was going to go out there and dominate. He was just on. He was in the zone. I don't know if there's ever been a pitcher in the zone for as long as he was coming down the stretch drive into the playoffs. We were looking forward to it. We couldn't wait for the game to start.
Heading into the eighth inning, the Cubs led 3-0 behind a brilliant Prior: 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, no runs. Because of a double switch in the 7th, the Marlins led off the 8th inning with Mike Mordecai in the number 9 hole, followed by the top of the order.
MIKE MORDECAI, nobody on, nobody out, 3-0 Cubs.
4 pitches: Called strike (0-1). Ball (1-1). Ball (2-1). Flyout to LF.
PRIOR: He flew out to left.
BAKO: So there's one out, and we've got five outs to go.
JUAN PIERRE, nobody on, one out, 3-0 Cubs.
6 pitches: Ball (1-0). Ball (2-0). Called strike (2-1). Foul (2-2). Foul (2-2). Double to left.
PRIOR: I don't know specifically what we talked about for that at-bat, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of, "Let's try to get him out early in the count." For those types of guys, I'd rather get them out within the first two or three pitches. Because those guys get really dangerous when they see a bunch of pitches. That's when they can work the count, get on base by walking, or wait for the mistake.
Double to left. I think it was down the line. That's what I'm saying: Pierre was a guy where you had to run it in on him so he couldn't get extended.
LUIS CASTILLO, runner at 2nd, one out, 3-0 Cubs.
9 pitches: Called strike (0-1). Ball (1-1). Called strike (1-2). Ball (2-2). Ball (3-2). Foul (3-2). Foul (3-2). Foul – BARTMAN. (3-2). Ball four, wild pitch, Pierre takes 3rd.
PRIOR: Same situation [as Pierre]. I'd thrown a bunch of pitches to him and a lot of them were good pitches. They were right on the black, give or take, and I was trying to get him to put the ball on the ground. Early on you're trying to get him to put the ball up in the air, where it's just a fly ball and he can't use his speed, or put the ball on the ground so we have a shot at getting one out. He just kept working the count, working the count, and somehow it never got into our favor.
Well, I should take that back. It was in my favor. But he kept fouling balls off. And then you take a pitch really close for a ball, and then he fouls the one ball off that led to the whole Bartman thing. But he was working the count. And it was frustrating. It was a frustrating at-bat.
After working the count full, Castillo fouled off three consecutive pitches, the last of which floated into the left-field stands. Moises Alou, the Cubs left fielder, gave chase.
BAKO: Castillo was just fouling off pitches, which he was tremendous at. Just staying alive with two strikes. Obviously there's no foul ground down there, and off the bat [the Bartman ball] looks like it's going to be a foul ball.