THE BARTMAN STORY…in three parts
PART I: Games 1 through 5
October 12, 2003: Worse Than it Seemed
On the morning of Sunday, October 12, 2003, I woke up on the couch. I was sleeping on the couch because my visiting parents were sleeping on my bed. I’d crashed out on that couch before, but that was the first time I purposefully slept on it. And I think that’s what threw me. That brief moment when I was coming out of a night’s rest, and I opened my eyes just a bit to see, not the walls of my room, but rather the TV and front door. For that split second, I was not where I was supposed to be.
It was my senior year at IU, and my folks were in town for the IU-NU football game.The Cats had pulled out the big win, beating the Hoosiers 37-31 in overtime. Back to my apartment for cards, a movie, and although they were originally planning only to stay for the Bears-Saints game, I talked them into staying for another: Game 5 of the NLCS.
Game 1 was a dizzying back-and-forth affair at Wrigley that Florida eventually won in the 10th, followed by the Cubs taking three straight. Actually, ‘taking’ is putting it nicely. The Cubs obliterated Florida. Game 2 saw a 12-3 pounding with Prior allowing only two earned runs, and the Cubs’ first three batsmen—Lofton, Grudz, and Sammy—combining for a 7-of-13 with 5 RBI and 4 runs scored. Game 3 was close, the Northsiders pulling out a 5-4 win in the 11th…and then came Game 4. The key game. Where a loss ties it up and a win puts you a game away from the World Series. You almost couldn’t believe it was happening: we never had a big lead during the season—we were under .500 after the All-Star break, and we didn’t clinch the division until Game 161—and then all of a sudden we’re in Game 4, and we didn’t even realize where we were until we were there…
…which was exactly how the game began, because Lofton, Sammy, and Moises all walked, hey look at that, bases are loaded with one out, and then Aramis came up and BOOM! clocked one with his big open swing, and like Pudge Fisk watching the ball drift high down the line, damn, he killed that ball, and now Aramis is just looking at it, and I’m looking at it, and everybody is just looking at it, and then it goes fair and Holy Hell! Did you see that? Aramis just hit a grand slam! We’re up 4-nil! And it’s still the first inning!
And that was the series. That was the season. Everybody just watching, not really processing the full meaning, and all of a sudden we realize, “Wait a second. Did the Cubs just go up 3-1 in the NLCS?”
Yes they did.
Suddenly we were one game away from a World Series appearance. Could it be? Was it possible? My folks came over for NU-IU, we hung out, and then I woke Sunday morning, and I opened my eyes, and instead of my bed I was on my couch. And that did it. My eyes adjusted, and the first thought of the day flashed through my head, a thought that frightened me, a thought that ended up haunting me until opening day of 2004: Right now, at this very moment, the Cubs are FAVORED to be in the World Series…
…and it didn’t feel right.
I shook it off. I was headed to Yogi’s, my favorite Bloomington bar, with my parents for what was bound to be a wonderful day of sports, a double header with Bears-Saints at noon and Cubs-Marlins at three. SANTO 10 unbuttoned over ROBINSON 88, Bears hat on top. But the Bears were a bust, a lethargic 20-13 loss to New Orleans, leaving me anxious but focused on Game 5.
It wasn’t to be. Josh Beckett threw a complete game shutout—allowing only two hits—and was bolstered by three Florida home runs. The Marlins won 4-0 in a game that belonged to Beckett all the way. Still, I was encouraged by our prospects. When you get beat by a pitcher who is just too good, you don’t feel quite so bad. Plus we were going home for Games 6 and 7 where we would have Prior and Wood and a chance to wrap the series in front of the home crowd, and damnit! If we can’t win one game with Prior and Wood…well, maybe we don’t deserve to win.
And so we were confident with our two aces headed for the mound, and as much as I wanted to celebrate the Cubs’ pennant win with Mom and Dad, they were headed back to Wilmette as the Cubs headed back to Chicago for Game 6. So it be.
It had been a fun weekend of sports and family, the kind of weekend that really makes you feel like an American. My folks went home, and the Cubs headed back to Wrigley. Prior and Wood. The home crowd. The way it should be.