What hurts most is that I started counting outs after the sixth. I’d never done it before, but I just couldn’t help myself. Florida went 1-2-3 in the top half, the Cubs scored once to push their lead to two-zip in the bottom half, and when we entered the seventh, I quietly announced to myself and a few others in the bar that we were nine outs away. The top of the seventh ended with no damage done, and after each out recorded I grew more and more confident, my countdown growing louder and louder, until I was practically screaming in a relax-Jack-we’re-not-there-yet-but-GODDAMN-is-this-exciting! kind of a way. The Cubs scored once in their half of the seventh to take a 3-0 lead, and so we headed into the eighth, six outs away from the World Series.
First up for Florida was Mike Mordecai, in his first AB of the game after subbing in defensively in the seventh. Mordecai flied out to Alou, and we were down to five outs. The next batter was Juan Pierre — he doubled to left. Now there was a runner in scoring position, but Mark Prior was still on the mound. 18-6 Mark Prior. 2.43 ERA Mark Prior. Cy Young candidate in his first full season as a starter Mark Prior.
But none of that mattered when, on the next at-bat, a Luis Castillo pop up drifted down the left field line and slowly into foul territory, slowly, slowly…
OK, the thing about the Bartman play was that as I watched it, the ball did not look like it could be caught. From the TV angle, I didn’t even see Moises tracking the ball. And even at the very end when he entered the shot, it didn’t look like the ball was gonna be in a place where Moises could catch it. I mean, if you look at his jump, he gets just a perfect jump on that ball. So watching the play unfold on television, you’ve got a ball that looks like it’s definitely going out of play, and then at the last second not only does it not but your guy has a play on it, and then no sooner after realizing that do you see a fan’s hand shoot out and knock the ball away. And I think that made it worse: it didn’t seem like Alou had a chance to make the catch until the very last moment, and then it looked like there was no way that he wouldn’t make the catch, and then of course, he didn’t make the catch. It was kind of a metaphor for the entire season, when you think about it.
And then there was the reaction. Fans at the park pelting Bartman with debris, fans in the bar screaming, nobody quite knowing what had happened. Of course, the Cubs were still in it at this point. At this point, we were still up three-zip with one out in the eighth. Baseball-wise, it was still our game. But you knew it wasn’t gonna happen. You could just feel it. Anytime you’re telling others not to worry in an effort to stop your own worrying, that’s a bad sign. And then bang, bang, bang, bang, all our fears confirmed.
Castillo walked on a wild pitch, allowing Pierre to take third. Pudge singled to score Pierre, making it first and second. Then came The Error, Alex Gonzalez letting a potential inning-ending double play ball from Miguel Cabrera bounce off his glove. Bases full. Derrek Lee doubled in two to tie the game, Prior was hooked, the Marlins scored five more, and that was that. End of inning. End of game. End of series.
It didn’t matter that we had Kerry going at home for Game 7. It didn’t matter that we were still the favored team to win the series. And it didn’t matter when an Alou home run put us up 5-3 in the fifth. We never had a chance.
Of course, we did have a chance, baseball-wise. And we believed in that chance, not the least of which because it was entirely plausible. We believed in it because if we didn’t, then what would be the point of watching? But we were wrong, and Florida came back, and as they celebrated on our field, I walked home by myself, too tired and too upset to even drink. Mom called, and I answered, and she tried to give me solace. It was a nice gesture. Then Dad got on, and he listened patiently as I went on about how much it sucked and how I really thought we would win. I stopped, and waited for him to respond, waited for him to comfort me. I should have known better. Instead, he chuckled a bit, and I could sense his smirk on the other end.
And then he said it.
“Just wait till it gets bad.”
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