Exactly 11 years ago today on October 14, 2003, the Cubs were only five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945.
The Cubs had themselves a 3-2 lead over the Florida Marlins in the NLCS, and only needed to record five outs, with a 3-0 advantage in the eighth inning with Mark Prior still on the mound – then it happened.
Prior was dominating the Marlins, holding them to just three hits prior to the incident occurring. Second baseman Luis Castillo was in the batters box with one out, and speedy outfielder Juan Pierre standing on second base.
Castillo sent a high pop-up in foul territory down the third base line where left fielder Moises Alou attempted to bring in the second out of the inning. What happened next would swing the moment in favor of the Marlins.
Lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman was sitting near the corner right behind the bullpen and attempted to catch the foul ball at the same time Alou tried making a play. The ball would bounce off Alou’s glove, who would then throw down his glove in a fit of rage and started shouting at fans in the area.
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Both Prior and Alou argued with umpire Mike Everitt for interference but it was quickly denied because the ball entered the stands and was out of play.
Castillo would go on to draw a walk from Prior, who would later throw a wild pitch, allowing Pierre to advance to third base.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez drove in Florida’s first run of the ballgame, bringing his club within two runs.
With the Cubs holding onto a two-run lead and still only one out in the eighth, shortstop Alex Gonzalez attempted to turn a double play on a ground ball hit by Miguel Cabrera. Gonzalez would end up botching the play, allowing the bases to now be loaded with only one out.
Prior would be removed from the game after giving up a game tying RBI double by Derrek Lee, and would be replaced by Kyle Farnsworth.
Bartman was quickly escorted from the premises by security guards and police officers while fans shouted at him on his way out as the Cubs fell to the Marlins by the score of 8-3.
Pitcher Kerry Wood would pick up a start the seventh and final game of the series but would allow the Marlins to erase a 5-3 deficit. Florida ended up winning that game by the score of 9-6, and would go on to dominate the New York Yankees in the World Series in six games.
Ever since this incident, the Cubs have reached the post-season only twice. They were swept by both the Arizona Diamondbacks (2007) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2008) in the NLDS.
Bartman’s incident has been associated with the infamous ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ which was placed upon the team during the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers – a series they would lose in seven games.
Left fielder Moises Alou relieved the play during an interview with ESPN back in June of 2008 where he said:
"“It’s time to forgive the guy and move on. I said that the night it happened.” Alou told reporters."
The incident itself had its own ESPN ’30 for 30′ special titled ‘Catching Hell’ which originally aired on September 27, 2011. It featured interviews of players, fans, celebrities and even mentioned that Bartman was still living in the city of Chicago.
He denied the opportunity to tell his side of the story to ESPN. Alou on the other hand was convinced 100% that he had the ball in his glove.
Even (then new) Cubs’ President Theo Epstein commented on the Bartman incident during an interview with ESPN’s ‘Pardon the Interruption’ saying:
"” I’m all about having an open mind, an open heart and forgiveness. Those are good characteristics for an organization to have as well. He’s a Cubs fan. That’s the most important thing.” Epstein via USA Today."
While most Cubs fans have forgiven Bartman for what happened 11 years ago, you can’t help but think about how things could have turned out if Alou had made the play.
The question that needs to be asked is would he be willing to attend a decisive game in the NLCS or World Series whenever the Cubs make it that far?
Only time will tell.