A decade later, Cubs nightmare alive and ill
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There was little doubt it was coming in droves this year, an assault on the senses, an insult to the masses.
But it is already happening — and it's not even St. Patrick's Day.
This October will mark 10 years, and in the unlikely event you had managed to forget, fear not because the anniversary of the 2003 Cubs will be all over your television this season.
The networks are already referencing Game 6 in preseason previews and reinforcing the notion that one fan is to blame for the horrific, late-inning collapse that cost them a chance to reach the World Series.
Honestly, 10 years later there are still people trying to sell this idiotic storyline?
While they certainly exist, I don't personally know a human who thinks a fan had anything to do with the Cubs losing Game 6 — and some remember the eighth inning on Oct. 14, 2003, like it was yesterday — but it remains the only way for those without a clue to wrap it up in a nice, tight package.
They don't remember that the Cubs had a 3-0 lead going into the top of the eighth with an exhausted Mark Prior on the mound, and no one warming in the bullpen.
Prior had thrown more that year than at any time in his life and still Dusty Baker had him toss an extra 2 innings (43 pitches) in a Game 2 blowout, when he could have hit the showers after five.
By the eighth inning of Game 6, Prior was at 95 pitches, but this was the same Baker who a year earlier had failed to go to his closer when the Giants were six outs away from winning the World Series in Game 6.
Now a year later, there was a man on second and one out when the infamous foul ball eluded Moises Alou, but while Baker jumped around in the dugout, he never went to see his young pitcher.
After that, Prior walked Luis Castillo on a 3-2 pitch, hung an 0-2 breaking ball to Pudge Rodriguez and Alex Gonzalez butchered a perfect double play ball that would have ended the inning.
What's any of that have to do with a foul ball?
Derrek Lee — who had been 3-for-26 in the series — then crushed a first-pitch fastball down the middle — No. 119 for Prior — for a double to left, tying the game.
And finally, Baker went to get Prior.
Kyle Farnsworth replaced Prior and Baker had him intentionally walk Mike Lowell, before Jeff Conine followed with a sacrifice fly to deep right to score the go-ahead run.
Refusing to be left out — and ensuring he'd be listed in the credits for such a legendary horror flick — Sammy Sosa airmailed his throw over everyone but the vendors, allowing the runners to move up and causing another intentional walk in advance of Mike Mordecai's bases-clearing double.
One more RBI single off Mike Remlinger and it was 8-3. Baker warmed closer Joe Borowski after it was too late, never used him and the Cubs were cooked.
Poor Kerry Wood claimed he choked the next night in Game 7, but that was merely a noble attempt to fall on the sword. The truth is he was on fumes in Game 3 after Baker had abused him all season, and Wood gave a gallant effort but had nothing left to give his team by the final game of the NLCS.
That's what I remember about the ending to 2003, not a fan who reached up with several other anonymous patrons as a foul ball neared them, doing what every Cubs fan had ever done with a ball hit at them.
Said Prior, "Everybody in the clubhouse and management knows that play is not the reason we lost the game."
Except for Baker, who couldn't see the play from his spot in the dugout, but still mentioned "fan interference" three times in his postgame blame session.
In the clubhouse, Alou admitted he had overreacted on the field and the fan wasn't culpable, and in 2008 Alou told The Associated Press, "You know what the funny thing is? I wouldn't have caught it, anyway."
No, he wouldn't have caught it.
And still, there will be stories all season about the search for this fan. Where is he? What is he doing? How does he feel? Is his life ruined? Will he ever come out of hiding?
All it will do is further a canard, a lazy attempt to create an explanation, when the real one is too obvious and hardly exciting.
The Cubs ran out of gas in large part because they were poorly managed.
That story is easy to find. Look for the man on the Reds' bench, chewing a toothpick and passing the time comfortably in Cincinnati.
But for the love of Pat Tabler and all that's holy, leave the foul ball fan alone.
Ten years later, is that really too much to ask?
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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