The Chicago Cubs’ Joe Borowski was a journeyman pitcher when he joined the team. Yet in 2003, it all came together for him as the Cubs won the division.
Usually, when a team has a magical season, it gets good performances from at least a few players whom no one was expecting to do much. The 2003 Chicago Cubs, who came within one win of the World Series, had several of those players. Yet one of those players that stands out to me after all these years is closer Joe Borowski.
Between 1995 and 1998, the right-handed Borowski bounced around from the Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, and New York Yankees. He resurfaced in 2001 with the Cubs and made one disastrous start – six runs in 1 2/3 innings – against the San Francisco Giants on August 11. The team tried him in the bullpen in 2002, and he was a pleasant surprise, making 73 appearances covering 95 2/3 innings while posting a 2.73 ERA.
Coming off that success, new manager Dusty Baker decided to use Borowski to close games in 2003. That year, he earned 33 saves while blowing only four, with an ERA of 2.63. No other pitcher on that team made more than one save; indeed, Borowski was Baker’s guy.
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Borowski was especially good down the stretch when the team needed him most. From August 5 on, he only allowed one earned run in 18 1/3 innings while collecting 14 saves, including ten straight appearances with a save to close out the season.
In the postseason, Borowski allowed just one earned run in 7 2/3 innings. One of my all-time favorite Cubs moments was when he struck out Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves to win the NLDS; it was my first time seeing the Cubs win a postseason series (as it was for almost all of us). I still get excited thinking about Borowski closing out games for the Cubs late in 2003; for all the good memories I have of that season, he was in the middle of so many of them.
Unfortunately, Borowski wasn’t able to sustain that success. He struggled badly in 2004 and 2005 before the team released him. He did later revive his career somewhat, as the closer for the Florida Marlins in 2006 and the Cleveland Indians in 2007. He last appeared in the majors in 2008.
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Though his time with the Cubs was relatively brief, compared to many other talented players in team history, Joe Borowski will always hold a key place in my memory bank of Chicago Cubs baseball. We tend to forget what he meant to that team, but his strong ninth inning pitching that year was a difference-maker as the team won the NL Central by one game.