Cubs History: Five-game series with Cardinals in 2003 remains epic

Chicago Cubs, Mark Prior (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs, Mark Prior (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images) /

The 2003 Cubs’ late-season five-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals remains a classic to this day.

A check of the standings on September 1, 2003 would show a familiar sight for Chicago Cubs fans: The team was 2 1/2 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals (with the Houston Astros also in the mix, a game behind the Cardinals). Due to the inclusion of a makeup game, the teams were scheduled to play a five-game series at Wrigley Field starting that day.

I still remember watching those games. To this day, that series remains one of the most memorable and incredible baseball memories that I have. There was so much on the line — would the upstart North Siders finally be able to break through against their rivals? (Note: This was before the Cubs knocked the Cardinals out of the postseason in 2015.)

The Cubs cruised to a 7-0 victory in Game 1, thanks to a stellar eight-inning shutout performance from Mark Prior. That led to Game 2, which was a lot closer; in fact, it was tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. The home team got two singles and two walks in the ninth but couldn’t push a run across; they finally broke through with a Sammy Sosa walkoff home run in the 15th.

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That was the first game of a doubleheader; Game 3 of the series that night went the Cardinals’ way, 2-0, while the Cardinals took issue with Kerry Wood nearly hitting St. Louis pitcher Matt Morris twice. Dusty Baker and Tony LaRussa would get into a heated exchange from their respective dugouts later in the series, but that game is also remembered for a missed fair/foul call on what should have been a hit to tie the game from Moises Alou.

The next two games were also heated, back-and-forth affairs, as the Cubs scratched out an 8-7 victory in Game 4 and a 7-6 victory in Game 5. A lot of people think that the Cubs put the Cardinals away in that series, but actually, by the end they were only 1/2 game up on St. Louis with still a few more weeks left to play. It would take a nice run for Chicago to barely edge out the Cardinals and Astros and, as we know, take the division.

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With these two teams appearing to be on a collision course for another great divisional race as we head down the stretch here in 2020, perhaps this was a good time to look back on this memorable series. The two teams don’t play each other again this year, but hopefully, we get an exciting race again — and again, with the Cubs coming out on top.