2003 MLB playoffs

3 10 2015

Division Series:

5 of the 8 teams from the 2002 playoffs made it back in 2003.  The Yankees, A’s and Twins repeated as division winners in the American League.  In the National League, the Braves won their 12th straight division title and the Giants went from Wild Card to NL West winner.  The Red Sox, Marlins (Wild Cards) and Cubs (NL Central) were new participants.

Marlins at Giants

The Giants were defending NL Champs and had finally wrestled the division title away from Arizona.  They certainly looked like the favorite in the NL, and Jason Schmidt followed up his breakout year by holding the Marlins to 2 hits and out-dueling youngster Josh Beckett in the opener in Pac Bell.

That was the only game the Giants would win, however.  The next game was anything but a pitching duel; the Marlins came from behind to win, 9-5, with the help of Juan Encarnacion’s game-tying homer and Juan Pierre’s go-ahead double in the 6th.  The pivotal game 3 went to extra innings, and the Marlins scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 11th to win, 4-3.  Carl Pavano picked up his 2nd win in relief in game 4 to clinch the series for the less-experienced Marlins.  They successfully neutralized Barry Bonds in the series, walking him 8 of the 17 times he came up.

Cubs at Braves

The Braves again had the best record in the NL, but they ran into a team with a younger pitching staff.  Kerry Wood was dominant in game 1, combining with Joe Borowski to hold the Braves lineup to 3 hits.  The Braves evened the series in game 2 behind a gutsy start from Mike Hampton and a late 2-run double by Mark DeRosa.

The series returned to Wrigley Field where Cubs’ Ace Mark Prior took center stage.  Outdoing 4-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, Prior hurled a 2-hit complete game to give the Cubs a 2-1 series lead.  The Braves came back with Russ Ortiz on short rest; he pitched well and rode 2 Chipper Jones homers to even the series.

The Braves brought Hampton back on short rest as well when they returned to Turner Field for game 5; he didn’t fare as well.  Kerry Wood was just as good as he had been in game 1.  The Braves mustered just 1 run and 5 hits in a 5-1 loss that gave the Cubs their only victory in a postseason series since 1908.

Twins at Yankees

In a true David and Goliath matchup, the Twins faced the Yankees for the first time in the playoffs.  The Twins typically had a bottom-5 MLB payroll, whereas the Yankees were in the midst of a 15-year run atop baseball’s payroll list. It seemed the series might go the way of the biblical tale, as the Twins used a true team effort to win game 1, 3-1.  Johan Santana held the Yankees scoreless for 4 innings, but had to come out with a pulled hamstring.  From there, the Twins used 4 pitchers, including one former 1994 strike replacement player (Rick Reed) and a guy who is still pitching today (LaTroy Hawkins).  Mike Mussina gave up 3 runs in 7 innings, which just wasn’t good enough.

Goliath took charge from there.  The Yankees had looked sluggish, but Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera held the Twins to a Torii Hunter homer and the Bombers knocked Brad Radke out in the 7th inning.  Roger Clemens and David Wells kept the Twins to just 1 run as well in the next 2 games, and Goliath moved back on to the ALCS.

Red Sox at A’s

Ramon Hernandez bunt 2003 ALDS

The A’s were in the playoffs for the 4th straight year, but they still hadn’t won a series in that span.  Hosting the Wild Card winning Red Sox, they got off on the right foot by getting pas Boston’s ace Pedro Martinez.  Down 4-3, they tied it with a run off closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the bottom of the 9th.  Oakland won it on a gutsy, 2-out bunt single by Ramon Hernandez to score Eric Chavez in the bottom of the 9th.  Defending AL Cy Young winner Barry Zito shut down the Red Sox for a 5-1 win and a 2-0 lead in game 2.

The A’s were destined for another blown 2-0 series lead, however.  They almost moved on in game 3.  Derek Lowe had been needed in the extra innings in game 1, and took the loss on the Hernandez squeeze bunt.  But he matched Ted Lilly and got some help from a few controversial outs that stifled the A’s rally in the 6th inning.  A walk-off 2-run homer by Trot Nixon gave the Red Sox life and a 3-1 victory.  It also ended a record streak where the A’s had beaten Boston in 10 straight playoff games dating back to the 1988 ALCS.

The A’s ran into trouble when Tim Hudson had to leave in the first with an injury.  The game stayed close, but Scott Williamson earned his second consecutive win for the Red Sox when David Ortiz hit a 2-run double in the bottom of the 8th.  Back in Oakland, the A’s took an early lead against Martinez with Zito on the hill.  But a 4-run 6th inning did Zito in and Pedro held them to 2 runs over 7 innings.  The Red Sox were moving on to face their bitter rivals in the Bronx.

Championship Series:

Both Wild Cards had advanced, and while the division-winning Cubs had the worst record of any playoff teams, the Yankees were still alive with the best record in baseball.  One potential scenario was particularly intriguing; 2 of the 3 longest droughts in baseball were still in play to be ended.  Bostonians hoped to reverse the curse of the Bambino; they hadn’t won the World Series since trading Babe Ruth away after the 1919 season.  Cubs’ fans were facing a 95-year drought and hoped to end their own curse; they hadn’t been to the World Series.  Unfortunately for those fan bases, it was not to be in 2003.

Bambino Billy Goat

Marlins at Cubs

The NLCS featured two teams with young but explosive pitching staffs.  The Cubs got to game 1 starter Josh Beckett right away – scoring 4 runs behind 4 extra base hits in the first inning.  Beckett held down the fort for the next 5 innings, though, and the Marlins put up a 5-spot on Carlos Zambrano in the 3rd.  After some back and forth, the high-scoring affair went to extra innings.  The Marlins completed the surprising comeback behind a Mike Lowell homer in the 11th inning.

Too bad for Cubs fans.  If they had won that game, they could have swept their way into the World Series.  The took the next 3 games behind Mark Prior, Matt Clement, and an extra-inning win of their own in game 3.  A 3-1 series lead had them on the brink of the team’s first World Series in 58 years.

Josh Beckett responded with a 2-hit shutout in game 5, but it seemed like a mere postponement as the Cubs returned home to Wrigley Field with Prior and Wood lined up.  Game 6 changed everything.  Actually, the 8th inning of game 6 changed everything.  Prior had shut down the Marlins on 3 hits through 7 innings, and held a 3-0 lead.  He got the first out, and the Cubs were 5 outs from the NL pennant.  But after Juan Pierre doubled, Luis Castillo popped a shallow foul ball down the left field line.

Bartman foul ball

The rest, as they say, was history.  A Cubs fan deflected the ball that Moises Alou appeared close to catching.  Alou reacted strongly toward the play, and things unraveled for the Cubs from there.  Castillo walked, Pudge singled, and Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez.  Before the inning was done, the Marlins had sent 12 batters to the plate and scored 8 of them.  Game 6 was over.

The Cubs fought back in game 7, overcoming 3 early runs against Wood to take a 5-3 lead.  But the Marlins scored 3 times in the 5th inning and won the game and the pennant.  To this day, the Bartman incident is a controversial topic here in Chicago.  It exposed an ugly side of sports culture; he had to get a security escort as Cubs fans jeered him.  He got death threats and hasn’t been back to Wrigley since.  The guy has turned down numerous opportunities to profit from it; I’d say he’s a better man than most fans I know from that perspective (including me!).  On one level, I hope the Cubs can win a World Series soon as it would go a long way to erasing that part of this story.

Red Sox at Yankees

As exciting as the NLCS was, it was probably outdone by the series in the junior circuit.  The series featured a curse of its own, but it was between bitter rivals.  While the Cubs have always been lovable losers, Red Sox fans viewed themselves as tortured souls, who certainly seemed more distraught regarding their 85 year dry spell than North Side Chicago fans.

But, like the NLCS, it did involve a collapse by the “cursed” team.  I won’t get into all the detail of the first 6 games, but the series was a back and forth affair.  Tim Wakefield outpitched Mussina in games 1 and 4, while Pettitte and Clemens outdid Lowe and Martinez in games 2 and 3.  David Wells put the Yankees a game away from the pennant in game 5, but the Red Sox pounded out 9 runs to force a deciding game 7.

Game 7 had as much anticipation as any non-World Series game could have.  2 of the 4 greatest hurlers of our lifetime started, and, frankly, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson weren’t quite as interesting as these guys.  When Clemens and Martinez faced off early in the regular season it was a huge story.  But in game 7 of the Champion Series, it was unfathomable.

Clemens didn’t last long, giving up 4 runs in 3+ innings.  But the Yankees pulled out all the stops, bringing Mussina in to stem the tide.  The Yankees whittled away at the lead, but it was still 5-2 going into the 7th.  But manager Grady Little stuck with Pedro into the 8th, despite instruction from his front office that Martinez was far less effective this late in the game.  It was a surprise that Little left Pedro in for the 8th, but the shocker was that he didn’t pull him after he gave up hits to the first two batters, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.  He visited the mound, but went back to the dugout.  The move cost him his job, as Pedro surrendered the 3-run lead.

Little Pedro 2003 ALCS

Mariano Rivera pitched 3 innings in relief, something I doubt would be asked of any other closer in today’s game.  Wakefield, who already had 2 wins in the series, came on in the 10th and got all 3 batters out.  But he wasn’t so lucky in the bottom of the 11th.  Aaron Boone, a trade deadline acquisition in 2003, hit the first pitch he saw into the left field seats, sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.  The Yankees were going to their 6th World Series in 8 seasons.

Aaron bleeping boone

Tomorrow’s post will describe how that Fall Classic went.





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