Yesterday, the Miami Marlins got a chance to celebrate a very important date in their past. Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between the then Florida Marlins and the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs up 3-2 in the series and 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning, everything seemed in line for a glorious return to the World Series by an upstart Cubs team. But, depending on who you ask, one man and one bespectacled man alone ruined the nationwide party with one action.
We are talking about the infamous Steve Bartman incident.
Over at our Chicago Cubs blog Bleed Cubbie Blue, Al Yellon had a great piece reviewing what happened that night and the emotions that were swirling during that evening during and after that inning. It is an amazing read, and it is worth reading to understand just exactly how the Cubs' faithful felt.
This is all understandable. Fans felt anger that night. It was very clear when a vocal group in the stadium began showering and pelting the unfortunate Bartman with debris as the inning began to go sour after the play. It was evident when there was so much vitriol sent his way in the days after the event and leading to the eventual Game 7 loss. It was evident years after, when people like former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou still hold a good deal of blame for their misfortunes on those outstretched arms.
Anger is an understandable emotion for a franchise that has not experienced a World Series attempt since 1945 and have not won one since 1908. Marlins fans, transient as we are, probably fail to grasp how devastating that probably is. But so much of the perspective comes from the Cubs' side that it fails to consider the Marlins' perspective.
For the Marlins, that inning was pure magic.
Two years ago, we discussed the Bartman incident in reviewing ESPN's documentary Catching Hell, and it was a good look back at an incident from the perspective of the Cubs. But it is worth being on my side of the story when I was watching this event.
The seventh inning had ended and the Cubs had taken a 3-0 lead. Mark Prior was dealing on the mound, and I was struggling to cope with the end. This was going to be the finish of my Marlins' magical year. Before the eighth inning, I had turned off the television. My belief that the Marlins had lost this series had been brewing since Game 4. It was gravy that Josh Beckett had dominated Game 5 and brought the Marlins a win. It seems silly to think back that I could have missed what may be one of the three or four seminal moments in franchise history just before it all went down, but I honestly did not want to watch my Marlins take a loss. Just like I did this past year with the Miami Heat, I wanted to it to just end away from me so that my heart would not be so broken.
But something inside me did not allow it. I felt the itch to turn the television back to the game. I could not resist my temptation to watch. It was 3-0, after all! When I turned the TV back to the station, it was a mere coincidence that it landed on exactly the Bartman play, when Luis Castillo fouled that pitch off into left field. I turned the station right after he had swung, and a scene cut to the fly ball en route to left field threw off my initial vision of the ball.
That scene cut jarred my thoughts, and I was not able to clearly watch the play unfold. Next thing I knew, history happened before my very eyes. Bartman disrupted the potential catch, Alou threw that fit, and we watched about 30 replays in the next two minutes as Luis Castillo worked himself a walk as he had done so many times before. Looking back, it is amazing to believe that not only did I almost miss that event, but that when my mind and body could not resist looking away any further, I turned to exactly that moment in time that would be crystallized forever in the fans of two fan bases.
I caught that exact moment and was mesmerized until the very end. Ivan Rodriguez's single to bring home the first run was a delight, but at that point, I do not think that either side felt that the game was decided. I honestly feel that Cubs fans felt that the game was still well within reach, and I am almost certain that Fish fans, at the time, did not think that the momentum was all ours. For me, the Bartman incident was a mere incidental happenstance in the middle of a potential rally by a team who was still well behind.
Then the Alex S. Gonzalez error occurred.
This was, to me, the turning point of the inning, as it loaded the bases and caused a major swing in likely win percentage, as I described two years ago.
If one looks at the chart, one can see that his error cost the Cubs almost 11 percent of their chances to win the game. Had the double play been completed or even if an out had been made, one suspects the Cubs would have climbed back up to maybe a 90 percent or more shot at winning the game. Consider that, according to this win probability matrix by Tom Tango, the home team with runners on first and third and two outs in the bottom of the inning and up by a run has an 88.2 percent chance of winning. With the Cubs up by two runs, that surely would have gone up to at least 90 or 91 percent. The error might have been a 22 percent swing in odds of winning for the Cubs. Compare that to the win effect of the Bartman play; had Alou made the catch, perhaps the Cubs' chances of winning climb up to 95 from 92 percent, making the play a seven or eight percent swing. Yet Gonzalez slips into obscurity despite his mistake and Bartman is still the immortalized one.
The Gonzalez play was devastating for the Cubs, more so than the potentially lost out by Alou. At the time, the Cubs were already way ahead, and while giving up a baserunner and putting the tying runner at the plate was certainly a dangerous proposition, the Marlins were never as close to winning as when they loaded the bases with a run already in. The Cubs still could have prevented disaster had Gonzalez never booted that sure-fire groundout and potential double-play ball.
The obvious galvanizing play that occurred after that was the Derrek Lee double. Lee's double scored two runs, tied the game, and finally got me fully believing that the Fish really could win this game. On my end, it felt like an amazing clutch performance and a jolt of excitement that I had not felt as a fan all season long. No moment during that year was as big as that Derrek Lee double. When Josh Beckett struck out Sammy Sosa in Game 5 with a defiant high fastball, there was high drama, but that pitch did not have the impact that Lee's singular swing had on the game. Lee was perhaps the first Marlin to really liven up the team's offense that game, as so much of that inning's rally was predicated on Cub mistakes and fan interference in the stands.
From there, the rest was history. Two intentional walks gave the Marlins bases-loaded situations, and twice the Fish capitalized. First, Jeff Conine hit the sacrifice fly, and the Fish took the small 4-3 lead. It was a momentous lead because of the emotions that led to it. The Marlins fans who were watching had to be on the edge; just as we thought the game was in our sights, the team still had only tied the game, and the suddenly-struggling Prior had been pulled. Conine's fly ball gave the team the comfort of its first lead.
That lead, of course, would balloon thanks to Mike Mordecai's double, and the Marlins were suddenly cruising. A Pierre single at the tail end made it 8-3, and while Cubs fans in Wrigley Field stood in stunned silence, Marlins fans at home were going crazy. That Derrek Lee breathed life into a team that had previously done small things to support this seemingly small rally. The double by Mordecai sealed the deal and made the Marlins seem invincible by the end of the top of the eighth.
Marlins fans were on top of the world. They were obviously a heavy minority in Wrigley Field, if even present at all, but it was almost a certainty that those fans were cheering wildly, wherever they were. There is a thought that Miami fans are nary a vocal group and disappear at the first sight of adversity. I cannot say that I assisted in debunking that claim, nor did Miami Heat fans earlier this year in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, but wherever we are, we are vocal in support of our teams. I can guarantee that, had that game been in the cavernous Joe Robbie Stadium at the time it happened, the Fish fans would have been ecstatic in celebration. Instead, it was in historic Wrigley and was met with silence and the growing grumbling of angry fans.
It was an experience that was only duplicated when Beckett made that final tag on Jorge Posada to seal Game 6 of the World Series. There was nothing else that quite matched the thrill of that eighth inning. Unfortunately, baseball is a zero-sum game, and one fan base's destitute trash of a moment is another fan's golden treasure. Marlins fans never took delight in the national embarrassment of the Cubs, but I guarantee that that was because they were focused on the positives. No one was happy the Cubs lost that game, unless you were a Marlins fan that was happier the Marlins won. And it is very likely that, in the years that have passed since, Marlins fans hope that Cubs fans get to find that experience in the World Series once more.
But ten years ago yesterday, we were not embroiled in the curse or reveling in Bartman's or Gonzalez's misplay. Marlins fans were living in the moment and not even considering the Bartman play. Years later, I look back and still remember Lee's double as a galvanizing moment, long after Bartman was considered the only important remnant of that memory. For Marlins fans, that memory lasts much longer than that one split second, and it is a memory worth revisiting each and every year.