The game was memorable enough on its own merits, but the decision by one fan to try and grab a foul popup made it legendary. On this date, October 14, 2003, the Marlins came back from a three-run deficit in the 8th inning to defeat the Chicago Cubs, 8-3, in Game 6 of the NLCS, forcing a Game 7 and forever etching the name Steve Bartman into baseball lore.
The NLCS couldn't have gotten off to a better (or more dramatic start) for Florida, which won the series opener. But the good feelings from that win were quickly swept away when Chicago won the next three games, including the first two of three games in Miami. Facing elimination at home, the Marlins fought back for a 4-0 win, sending the series back to Wrigley Field. Mark Prior, who threw seven innings and allowed two earned runs in the Cubs' Game 2 win, got the ball once again; Florida elected to pitch Carl Pavano, having used its Game 2 starter, Brad Penny, in relief in Game 4. Looking to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1945, Chicago got on the board first with Sammy Sosa's double in the bottom of the 1st inning. The Cubs scratched out two more runs on a wild pitch and a single in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, to go up 3-0 going into the eighth.
Prior allowed just six scattered baserunners through the game's initial seven innings and had retired eight straight after Florida shortstop Mike Mordecai, who entered the game as part of a double switch in the bottom of the seventh, led off by flying out. In short, there was no reason to believe Prior didn't have the game in hand, even after Juan Pierre doubled after Mordecai's fly out. Kerry Wood, who had started two games in the series already, was already going through the Yankees' lineup in his head, beginning the mental preparation for Chicago's imminent World Series matchup.
That brought up second baseman Luis Castillo, and what happened next is now infamous. Castillo hit a pop up towards the seats on the third base line in shallow left. It appeared Cubs left fielder Moises Alou had a play; he leaped up to try and snag the ball, but a bespectacled fan wearing a blue Cubs hat and headphones reached over and grabbed for the ball himself, preventing an incensed Alou from potentially making the second out of the inning. Castillo went on to walk, and Ivan Rodriguez followed with a run-scoring single to put the Marlins on the board, 3-1. The Wrigley crowd had already decided that Steve Bartman was the reason things had begun to go wrong, even though Chicago was still in excellent position to win (according to Baseball Prospectus, Florida's win probability stood at 21 percent after Rodriguez's hit); surrounding fans began verbally abusing Bartman, and security soon escorted him out of the stadium for his safety. Yet despite Bartman's faux pas, the true turning point came in the next at-bat. Miguel Cabrera hit what should have been a routine double play ball to Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who had recorded 10 errors in 625 chances in the regular season. He booted the ball. The bases were now loaded with still just one out.
Thus began the Marlins' onslaught. Derrek Lee doubled to tie the game; Jeff Conine hit a sac fly two batters later to give Florida the 7-3 lead; two batters after that, Mordecai hit a bases-clearing double; and Pierre followed with a single. When the dust had cleared, Florida had an 8-3 lead, and after the Cubs went down in order the next two innings, the series was tied, 3-3.
The story of the game became Steve Bartman, and to this day, a debate surrounds whether Alou would've made the catch if Bartman didn't interfere. (Never mind the fact that there still would've been four more outs to get, and that Gonzalez's error was the much more crippling play.) Alou says today he's sure he would've caught it, even though he admits he was never great at making catches at the wall. Bartman has become ostracized from the Cubs' community, essentially forced into fan hiding. The Bartman angle makes for a great narrative, since it seems to fit right in line with the "cursed" nature of the lovable losers that are the Cubs. On the Marlins' side, though, this game is another example of a shocking win for an underdog making a surprising run to a championship.