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Florida Marlins 4, New York Yankees 2

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a lifelong Yankees fan.

Quite probably the most anticlimactic World Series in Major League Baseball history.

In early October 2003, the baseball press was creaming its metaphorical pants. The National League Championship Series pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins in an unlikely matchup. Up in the Northeast, the American League Championship Series featured the greatest rivalry in pro sports: the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

For those of you who aren't baseball fans or don't have access to the Fox network, I'll be blunt: some Cubs fans and Red Sox fans believe their respective teams to be "cursed." The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 due supposedly to the Curse of the Goat1. Boston has not won a World Series since 1918; some Boston fans claim the Curse of the Bambino is responsible for this fact. The sportscasting media (particularly Fox, who owned broadcast rights for the 2003 Series) loves to play off the fanaticism that these "curses" drive.

For the first time ever, the 2003 World Series could have been the Cubs versus the Red Sox. After one decisive seven-game series, one "cursed" team would be no more.

Major League Baseball, apparently, is cursed.

National League Championship Series

The Cubs backed into the playoffs with an NL Central-leading 88-74 record, one game ahead of the Houston Astros and the worst record of any 2003 playoff qualifier. Against all odds, they beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 in the Division Series to face the wild card Marlins in the NLCS.

The Cubs, playing at home in Wrigley Field, led the NLCS 3-2 and held a 3-0 lead in the sixth game. A Marlins fly ball in the 8th inning drifted foul and into not the glove of Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, but that of fan Steve Bartman. The Marlins, undeterred by this non-play, scored eight runs in the inning and won game 6. The following night saw the Marlins win again to take the series, four games to three. The Cubs had lost a series and claimed their "Curse" was the cause, while the real story will be distorted as often as that of Bill Buckner in the '86 World Series.

American League Championship Series

So on October 15, 2003, Fox learned that it wouldn't have its dream satisfied -- there would be no Cubs-Sox series for the ages. However, that same night the Boston Red Sox rallied in the Bronx to beat the hated Yankees in game 6 of the ALCS. The series would go to game 7 the following night.

Game 7 was an exceptional performance, with both teams sending every weapon in their arsenal. In an eleven-inning contest where each team hit three home runs (each more critical than the last) both squads also used every pitcher possible. The Yankees sent Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Felix Heredia, Jeff Nelson, David Wells, and closer Mariano Rivera to the mound, while the Sox used Pedro Martinez, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Tim Wakefield. The game will not be remembered for Jason Giambi's two taters, even though they kept the Yankees alive to play two extra frames. It will be remembered for Grady Little's decision not to pull Pedro Martinez as he was getting shelled by the Yankees (a decision widely believed to have cost Little his job) and for Aaron Boone's 11th-inning walk-off home run. Boone, acquired earlier that season from the Cincinnati Reds, hit Tim Wakefield's first pitch of the 11th into the left-field stands that threw the crowd of over 56,000 into an absolute frenzy. (Boone, by the way, would go on to injure himself playing basketball in the offseason, making way for the Yankees' controversial acquisition of Alex Rodriguez.)

So the Yankees and the Marlins would be playing in the World Series, and the Red Sox and Cubs would be sitting at home counting the millions of dollars their "Cursed" teams had earned that season.

The Series Itself

"It felt like a game in June, to be honest with you. It was just the atmosphere. It wasn't like the Boston series, I can tell you that." -- David Wells, after game 1

For many Yankees fans, the season was over after the nerve-wracking ALCS. The Yankees, with 26 World Championships (the last in 2000, just three years earlier) were playing the Marlins, who had entered the league in 1993 and won their first championship in 1997. It didn't make for compelling viewing. According to E!, the 2003 World Series was the third-lowest-rated in television history, beating only the 2002 Anaheim-San Francisco and 2000 Mets-Yankees series.

Game 1: Marlins 3, Yankees 2

Game 1 saw David Wells last seven innings on the mound but give up three runs: a sacrifice fly by Ivan Rodriguez and a two-run single by Juan Pierre. The Yankees offense was stifled by Brad Penny who only allowed an RBI single by Derek Jeter and a solo home run by Bernie Williams. Williams's home run was his 18th, tying him with Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for the most in Major League playoff history.

The Marlins were able to seal the victory with reliever Dontrelle Willis and closer Ugueth Urbina. As in the ALDS and ALCS, the Yankees lost Game 1. Yankees fans were eased by the fact that under Joe Torre, the team had won seven out of eight postseason series in which they lost the first game.

Game 2: Yankees 6, Marlins 1

Andy Pettite started Game 2 on three days' rest and allowed only a single unearned run in 8 2/3 innings. He was bolstered by home runs from Hideki Matsui and Alfonso Soriano. The series was tied at 1-1 as the action shifted to Florida for three more games.

Game 3: Yankees 6, Marlins 1

The score was the same as in Game 2, but the third game of the series featured strong performances by the Yankees' Mike Mussina and Florida's 23-year-old pitcher Josh Beckett. Despite a 39-minute rain delay, Beckett never lost his cool and left after 7 1/3 innings with two earned runs, 10 strikeouts and three Derek Jeter hits. Beckett retired the first 10 batters he faced. Still, he was outmatched by Mussina's seven-inning, nine-strikeout performance in which he surrendered only one run on seven hits.

Offensively, the Yankees only took the lead in the 8th inning on a Matsui opposite-field single. The final score is only due to four insurance runs on two ninth-inning home runs: one by Boone and one by Williams, his 19th, to break the postseason home run record.

Game 4: Marlins 4, Yankees 3 (12 innings)

This game will be remembered as Roger Clemens' "final" start, as he planned to retire at the end of the 2003 season. (Clemens eventually decided to come back and pitch for the Houston Astros in 2004.) Clemens gave up three runs in the bottom of the 1st including a two-run home run by Miguel Cabrera, but followed that with six scoreless innings and a total of five strikeouts. He was rewarded with a standing ovation and a curtain call by the fans in Miami.

Behind right-hander Carl Pavano, Florida held onto a 3-1 lead for 8 2/3 innings. With just one out to go, Ruben Sierra hit a pinch-hit two-run triple against Ugueth Urbina to tie the score at 3-3 and deny Pavano the win. New York's Jose Contreras pitched a scoreless 9th and 10th. Offensively, New York gave Florida's Chad Fox trouble in the 11th by putting Williams and Matsui into scoring position with just one out. After Braden Looper relieved Fox, Looper walked Ruben Sierra but proceeded to strike out Boone and induce John Flaherty to pop out to end the inning.

Alex Gonzalez led off for the Marlins in the bottom of the 12th inning against Jeff Weaver. Gonzalez worked the count full before depositing the 3-2 pitch just beyond the 330-foot left-field wall. The crowd went berzerk as the series was once again tied 2-2.

Game 5: Marlins 6, Yankees 4

Once again, Brad Penny proved capable against the Yankees as he lasted seven innings while giving up two runs (one of which was unearned) on eight hits. Penny also drove in two runs with a second-inning single to help his own cause.

David Wells started the game and retired the Marlins with just eight pitches in the first inning. However, he left the game immediately afterwards due to lower back spasms. Jose Contreras immediately gave up three runs in the second, including the aforementioned two-RBI single to the pitcher Penny, and surrendered a fourth run in the fourth inning. The Yankees' Chris Hammond gave up two unearned runs in the fifth on a throwing error by Yankee second baseman Enrique Wilson.

Braden Looper, who had been so effective late in game 4, gave up two ninth-inning runs including a solo home run by Jason Giambi. Ugueth Urbina, who blew a save opportunity in game 4, relieved Looper and retired the final two batters. The Marlins took two of three on their home turf (despite a large Yankee fan base in southern Florida) and the series went back to the Bronx with the Fish up 3 games to 2.

Game 6: Marlins 2, Yankees 0

Josh Beckett earned the title of Most Valuable Player in the World Series by pitching a complete game shutout and giving up only five hits, all on just three days' rest.2 His opponent, Yankee ace Andy Pettite, allowed two runs the hard way: three consecutive singles in the fifth inning, and then a sacrifice fly by Juan Encarnacion after a rare postseason error by Derek Jeter in the sixth.

The Yankees couldn't hit Beckett when it counted, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in this final game. Beckett himself made the final out, grabbing Jorge Posada's weak grounder and tagging Posada out. The Marlins became the first team since the 1981 Dodgers to celebrate a World Series victory in the House that Ruth Built.


1 BrooksMarlin says Please don't imply that actual Cubs fans actually believe in the "curse." It's just a sterotype perpetuated by the media.

2 mauler says Beckett pitched on three days rest in game 6, which was a very controversial decision by [Marlins manager Jack] McKeon because there was still a game 7 left to give.

Sources:

  • Wikipedia articles "Steve Bartman," "2003 World Series"
  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/2003_NLCS.shtml
  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/2003_ALCS.shtml
  • http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/ps/y2003/index.jsp
  • http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/yr2003ws.shtml

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