With just eleven days left in the decade (yes, it ends after December 31, 2009, not 2010–stop trying to be difficult), it’s time to take a look back at the ’00s, or oughts, and re-live the good and the bad as pertains to the Cubs.
We’re going to look at the turning point games for good…and then bad, in each season in which the Cubs were contenders (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009). We’re going to take a look back at some of the awful players you either have already forgotten (Les Walrond?) or wish you could (Neifi!), but today we’re going to start off by looking at the best season at each position by a Cub this decade.
C – Geovany Soto (2008) .285/.364/.504/.868 23 HR, 86 RBI
For all of the hand-wringing for three decades about lousy Cubs’ third basemen, they haven’t exactly been flush with catching excellence. For every quasi-All Star season by Jody Davis, or fluke 30 homer season by Rick Wilkins, they’ve had a bunch of seasons where you couldn’t tell the backup catcher from the starter, or the bullpen catcher from either of them.
That’s one of the reasons why Geovany Soto’s breakout 2008 season was such a cool thing. That, and the fact that the catching in 2007 was such a disaster with the clown car roll call of Michael Barrett, Hank White, Rob Bowen, Jason Kendall, Koyie Hill and then an end of the season cameo by Soto himself. When a September call-up starts behind the plate in your first playoff game, you know things have not gone well up to that point.
Soto had been kind of a fringey prospect until 2007, a guy who projected as somebody who could play in the majors a little. But suddenly he couldn’t make an out at Iowa, and that carried over to his call up to the Cubs. He even homered in those playoffs.
So he was handed the catcher’s job for 2008, and responded. He hit from the early going, and even a jarring streak, like the time he struck out in nine straight at bats, didn’t derail him. He also proved to be good behind the plate. He threw well, he knew when to go out and yell at a pitcher, he easily won the Rookie of the Year Award and he was a huge part of why the Cubs were such a tough lineup to pitch to, as guys like him at the bottom of the lineup made pitchers work so hard.
And then, 2009 happened. He showed up for spring training fatter than usual. He went to the World Baseball Classic and hurt his shoulder. He flunked a drug test. To his credit, his apology for getting caught smoking weed was one of the best and most honest you’re going to hear, but he got hurt again shortly after.
Now plenty of good players have taken a big step back in their “sophomore” season, and come back to have good third seasons and keep going. But plenty more have faded away. This is a huge season coming up for Soto, and a season when it behooves him not to show up…uh…huge.
1B – Derrek Lee (2005) .335/.418/.662/1.080 46 HR, 107 RBI, 109 K, 85 BB
After coming over in a trade for then-first baseman, now-Sherpa Hee Seop Choi after the 2003 season, Derrek Lee did two things we all remember. Right?
He got off to a slow start in 2004, then turned it on in the second half, and had a monster season in 2005 and finished second to Albert Pujols in the MVP voting.
Wrong, and wrong.
Well, the first one’s sort of wrong. He did get off to a slow start in 2004, and he got booed and clever guys like me openly mocked him for not being as good as Hee Seop. But he didn’t have a good second half, and was one of many reasons why the 2004 Cubs gagged away a playoff spot in the last few weeks of the season.
Lee hit only .233 with two homers and 11 RBI in April, and heard the Wrigley Field boos. He looked like he got on track on April 15 when he hit a grand slam against the Reds, but he was hitting .244 after that game, and managed to drop his average 11 more points in the next two weeks.
He did have a really good June (he hit .385 with 19 RBI) and played well during the summer, but when September came, he hit .217 with a woeful .695 OPS.
So Cubs fans weren’t all that giddy about Derrek heading into 2005. His ’04 stats looked like his stats he had in Florida. He finished 2004 hitting .278 with 32 HR and 98 RBI. It looked good, but it didn’t feel good.
Now we get to the second part that isn’t true. It is true that Lee was awesome in 2005, and he was much better than the team surrounding him. He led the league in batting average (.335) hits (199), doubles (50), slugging average (.662), OPS (1.080), and total bases (393), he also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
But he didn’t finish second to Pujols in the MVP voting.
He finished THIRD!
Andruw Jones, then of the Braves, finished second.
So not only did Lee somehow lose the MVP to a guy at his own position when Lee was given the awards for being the best fielder at that position (Gold Glove) and being the best hitter at the position (Silver Slugger), but he also finished behind a guy who hit 70 points less than him, and who posted an OPS that was 160 points less.
2B – Eric Young (2000) .297/.367/.399/.766 6 HR, 47 RBI, 54-61 SB
One of the things new Cubs manager Don Baylor demanded after a terrible 1999 season (the last of the surprisingly long Jim Riggleman era) was that the Cubs go out and get a real leadoff hitter for him. So Ed Lynch (guh) did just that in December of 1999 when he traded the immortal Terry Adams, Chad Ricketts, and Brian Stephenson to the Dodgers for Young and Ismael Valdez (he was still using the ‘z’ at the time).
Valdez was supposed to be the prize in the deal. He was only 26, he had just had a string of four straight years of double-digit wins and sub 4.00 ERAs broken with a nine win 1999 (he still kept his ERA under 4.00). The only red flag was that the often complained of and missed time because of blisters on his fingers.
Here’s how good Valdez was for the 2000 Cubs. He was traded back to the Dodgers on July 26 of that same year. He had gone 2-7 with a 5.44 ERA for the Cubs, and he would pitch for five more teams in the next five seasons.
But at least EY worked out. He did two things Cubs leadoff hitters hadn’t for a very long time. He got on base at a solid clip (.367) and he stole bases (54) without getting caught a lot (seven times). That last part was surprising because he had led the league with a Juan Pierre-esque 22 caught stealings just the year before.
His defense was…uh…not awful? Young had shuttled between the outfield and second early in his career, until Baylor had made him a full-time second baseman in 1996. So while he worked hard at his defense, he was no Ryne Sandberg. In his two seasons with the Cubs, Young made 27 errors. By comparison, Sandberg once had a four year stretch (1989-1992) when he made only 26 errors.
Incredibly, despite stealing 54 bases in 61 tries, one of the criticisms of the Cubs that year was that he didn’t run more. That was the result of the frustration many Cubs fans had of Baylor’s love…nay…dependence…on bunting runners (any runner, fast or slow) from first to second early in games. Much of the benefit of having a fast, basestealing adept player like Young leading off, was erased with Baylor’s insistence having his second place hitter, Ricky Gutierrez bunt (he had 16 sac bunts…about 15 too many). This was particularly galling, considering that Gutierrez actually had a higher on base average (.377) than Young did. You would think that in a lineup held down by duds like Willie Greene (.289 OBA), Damon Buford (.324 OBA), Henry Rodriguez (.314 OBA) and Joe Girardi (.339 OBA) that you’d want your first four hitters (Young, Gutierrez, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa) to hit with as many runners on as possible, not hand outs to the other team to set it up down the line for any of the other bums in the lineup.
So if you wonder how a team with an elite (for a season, at least) leadoff man, a good number two hitter and a 50 homer 138 RBI cleanup guy could struggle to score runs? That’s how.
SS – Ryan Theriot (2008) .307/.387/.359/.746 1 HR, 38 RBI, 58 K, 73 BB, 22-35 SB
By the end of the Dusty Baker era things had gotten so bad that instead of wondering why the team was no longer contending for playoff spots, we were left with wondering why a borderline prospect like Ryan Theriot wasn’t getting more playing time.
Theriot was hitting well and playing second base…on occasion, but he was sharing that spot with illustrious players like Freddie Bynum, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Todd Walker.
How well was Theriot hitting? He finished the 2006 season hitting .328 with a completely un-Cubslike on base average of .412. We have no idea where his .522 slugging average came from, and he stole 13 bases in 15 tries. Clearly, this was someone who Dusty should be storing on the bench on a team so stocked it would finish the season 66-96.
When Lou Piniella took over the team in 2007 he noticed that he didn’t have a competent shortstop. After struggling along early in the season with Cesar Izturis and the dumbest player in baseball history, Ronny Cedeno, Piniella asked Theriot, who played shortstop in college, if he would like to give it a try. Until that point in the season, Theriot had only played second base and third base, and played a few disastrous innings in the outfield. He said, “Sure!”
He started on April 25 and then most of the rest of the season at short. He played 107 more games there. He had a solid season at the plate, but nothing that would have made you think the Cubs had solved their shortstop dilemma (for the record, I still don’t think they have.)
In 2008, his first full season at short, Theriot hit .307 with a .387 on base average and he stole 22 bases. Compare that to the other hacks who have played short and his was the best season of any Cubs’ shortstop in the decade.
Even if it left a lot to be desired. It included 13 caught stealings, which is waaaaay too many when you only successfully steal 22. It also included only 24 extra base hits, which, while not the end of the world, is pretty anemic.
But the redeeming stats are the on base average and the fact that he struck out only 58 times in 661 plate appearances and walked more times than he K’d.
It’s also worth noting that in 2009 Theriot’s on base average dropped 44 points, he struck out more often (93), walked less (51 times) and stole fewer bases (21, but he still got caught 10 times.)
3B – E-ramis Ramirez (2004) .318/.373/.578/.951 36 HR, 103 RBI
Of the 10 seasons played by Cubs’ third basemen in the decade, the top five are all E-ramis Ramirez’s and his injury shortened 2009 is probably the sixth best, and his two months in 2003 are probably the eighth. It’s a combination of him being really damned good and just how awful Willie Greene (2000), Ron Coomer (2001) and Bill Mueller (2002) were. (Mueller and Coomer combined in 2001 are probably seventh.)
E-ramis has been the model of consistency since Jim Hendry stole him from the Pirates in July of 2003. That fact that the weakest part of his game, his defense, is now above average tells you all you need to know.
And it’s always a good thing when picking a guy’s best season is hard, because he’s had more than a few.
2004 was E-ramis’ best in most of the big categories. But in 2008 he put up comparable numbers and posted his career highs in doubles (44) and walks (74). In 2006 he struck out only 63 times in 660 at bats.
And none of this takes into account his clutchiness. He’s the last Cubs player to hit a grand slam in a playoff game. His homer off of Francisco Cordero in late June of 2007 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth turned that division race around.
And in maybe the masterpiece to his clutch, June 20, 2008. John Danks has the Cubs completely flustered, until Ozzie Guillen takes him out to have Octavio Dotel face Derrek Lee and E-ramis to start the seventh. Lee greets Dotel with a homer to make it 3-2 Sox.
E-ramis follows five pitches later with a homer to tie the game.
Two innings later, E-ramis leads off the bottom of the ninth with a bomb off of Scott Linebrink to win it 4-3.
So what does this have to do with 2004? Did I say something about him being clutch?
In 2004, while the team around him was falling apart, here’s what E-ramis did in September and the first days of October. .333/.419/.602/1.021 nine homers, 18 RBI, 16 walks, 8 K’s in 124 plate apparances.
LF – Alfonso Soriano (2007) .299/.337/.560/.897 33 HR, 70 RBI, 19-26 SB
Moises Alou had a couple of good seasons in the decade, but for sheer impact, it’s hard to top what Soriano did for the Cubs in 2007. After a slow start playing centerfield, Piniella finally gave up and moved Soriano to left, where he got his offense turned around.
He hit .302 with an .862 OPS in May, and when the Cubs finally started to get it together in June, he was a big reason why. He went .336/.379/.697/1.076 with 11 homers and 18 RBI.
But the month he will be remembered for is September. With the Cubs daring to gag away a lead in the NL Central, Soriano cranked it up to .320/.354/.754/1.108 with 14 homers and 27 RBI. Incredibly, he led off five games in September with homers.
Did I mention he went 2-14 in the playoffs against Arizona? No. OK, never mind.
CF – Kenny Lofton (2003) .327/.381/.471/.852 3 HR, 20 RBI, 12-16 SB, 56 games
CF – Jim Edmonds (2008) .256/.369/.504/.873 19 HR, 49 RBI, 85 games
Apparently there is some sort of law that the Cubs can never have a centerfielder have more than one half of a good season. In the decade, the only time the Cubs centerfielders were much of a threat were the first half of 2003 (Corey Patterson–and even that was built mostly around a red-hot May), two great months out of Kenny Lofton that same season, and Lassie Edmonds 85 games in 2008.
Don’t think it was that bad? Here’s who played center the rest of the decade:
2000 — Damon Buford .251 BA, 118 K
2001 — Gary Matthews Jr. .217 BA
2002 — Corey Patterson .284 OBA
2004 — Corey Patterson .266 BA, 168 K
2005 — Corey Patterson .254 OBA
2006 — Juan Pierre .320 OBA, 20 caught stealings
2007 — Jock Jones .335 OBA, .400 SLG, 5 homers
2009 — Kosuke Fukudome .259 BA, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 10 caught stealings in 16 attempts (seriously)
So the strategy in 2010 ought to be to wait until mid-season and call Kenny Lofton. Hell, he’s only 43.
In 2003, the Cubs do not win the Central without Lofton. The trade for Kenny and E-ramis filled the two most-gapingist (most gapingest?) holes on the team, and Kenny didn’t just give them a competent leadoff hitter, he played like a great one, and not just in the regular season, he was awesome in the playoffs, too. In fact, I remember having a discussion during game six (you know, before it all collapsed) about how Kenny should be the NLCS MVP. Ugh.
As for Lassie, has a more hated player ever come to the Cubs and shut the fans up quite like he did? I still don’t like the guy, and the fact that we hated him so much for so long before he came to the Cubs has definitely caused us to cast a jaundiced view of his performance that season. After a terribly slow start with the Cubs, Lassie got hot and was exactly what the team needed. He was the lefty bat threat in the middle of the order. They still haven’t replaced him.
RF – Sammy Sosa (2001) .328/.437/.737/1.174 64 HR, 160 RBI, 153 K, 116 BB
Regardless of what a steroid-riddled freak he turned out to be (and come on, did we really ever believe otherwise?), even by steroid-riddle freak standards, Sammy Sosa’s 2001 was fucking awesome. It’s not just the cartoon-like numbers (SIXTY-FOUR homers!, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY RBI!). But when you look at the awful other hitters on the Cubs, it’s astounding he ever got anything to hit.
The other 2001 Cubs regulars? C-Todd Hundley, 1B- Matt Stairs, 2B-Eric Young (he wasn’t close to the player he was a year earlier), SS-Ricky Gutierrez (neither was he), 3B Ron Coomer, LF-Rondell White (awesome when healthy, he only played in 95 games though), CF-Gary Matthews Jr. I mean, holy crap.
Sure, they did have Bill Mueller who had a good two months until he broke his knee in St. Louis, and they traded for Fred McGriff, who put up the hollowest 12 homers and 41 RBI in 49 games ever. (I’m not even exaggerating. You remember that season. McGriff didn’t do shit when it mattered. Nineteen of those RBI came after September 20 when the Cubs (who were in first place when he got there, were SEVEN games out of first–and nine of those RBI came in back-to-back games on the 20th and 21st.)
So, to put it mildly, Sammy Sosa’s 2001 season is the greatest steroid fueled season in history. If you had put him on either the Cardinals or Astros that season, Sosa would have hit .370 with 90 homers and 220 RBI, and I’m not sure just how much I’m exaggerating.
Just to remind you how cartoonish that season was, in the Cubs first game after 9/11 Sosa homering in the game was so predictable that first base coach Billy Williams hid an American flag in his back pocket to give to Sosa to hold on his way around the bases.
And we ate it up.
(Oh, the shame of it all. The shame.)
1. Mark Prior (2003) 18-6, 2.43 ERA 211.1 IP, 245 K, 50 BB
Here’s where things get depressing. OK, more depressing. Mark Prior was awesome in 2003. The nearly 5-1 strikeout to walk ratio is ridiculous, but he also went 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA in the second half. He held batters to a .221 batting average and they hit with almost no power at all against him. He gave up only 25 extra base hits in 325 plate appearances in the second half. For the season, basestealers were caught nine times in 16 attempts.
In the post season he was 2-1 with a 3.14 ERA and almost all of the damage done against him, came in one inning. I think you can guess which inning that was.
Now, if you know where Dusty Baker lives, you might not want to read the rest of this entry. You could become so enraged that you would do something silly and destructive, like poop in a bag and light it on fire on his porch, or call the IRS on him again.
Mark Prior is 29 years old. That’s it. He’s only 29. He should be in his ninth season with the Cubs. He should be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
But he’s not, and though the reasons are plenty, the biggest one is this.
Dusty Baker is a fucking idiot.
On July 11, 2003 the Braves were at Wrigley. In the second inning of a scoreless game, Prior walked against Mike Hampton. The next batter, Mark Grudzielanek grounded to second baseman Marcus Giles. Prior ran into Giles with both of them falling into a heap. The ball ended up all the way out at second base, so Rafael Furcal picked the ball up and stepped on the bag for the forceout, while Prior sat on the ground holding his shoulder and yelling in pain.
Surely he was done for the game, and you just hoped he wasn’t gone for a long time, right?
Wrong. Baker left him in to continue to pitch, and Prior threw 61 pitches in the next three innings. SIXTY-ONE!
He wouldn’t pitch again until August fifth. So obviously he was injured, and why he was left in to throw one more pitch, much less 61 is beyond comprehension.
And when he came back, did Dusty take it easy with him?
Sure, if you consider the following pitch counts to be “easy.”
79 (in six innings, not so bad)
129 (this is getting obscene)
But, those were his second half starts and I just said he went 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA in the second half. So how hurt could he have been?
Hold on for a second.
Then, in the playoffs:
133 (3-1 win in game three of the NLDS v. Atlanta)
116 (12-3 win in game two of the NLCS v. Florida —- 43 of those pitches game in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, did I mention the Cubs had an ELEVEN to nothing lead after five?)
119 (8-3 loss in game six of the NLCS v. Florida —- 24 of those came in the eighth inning, you remember, the one when the Marlins scored EIGHT runs with one out?)
It’s been debated over and over again that if Prior doesn’t throw those 43 extra pitches for no reason in game two, would he have been able to get through the eighth of game six? Nobody knows the answer.
But the answer is YES. Yes, of course he does. And the Cubs go to the World Series.
Oh, and did I mention that later we found that Prior had a bad Achilles tendon that bothered him in September and October? I didn’t?
By that point, Dusty Baker had so thoroughly anally raped Prior’s career with the average of 120.5 pitches per game in his last ten regular season starts (which actually went up to 122 when you factor in the other two postseason starts,) that the way it all ended seems so obvious.
Sigh. I don’t even want to think about this anymore.
2. Carlos Zambrano (2004) 16-8, 2.75 ERA, 209.2 IP, 188 K, 81 BB
He’s won 100 games in the last seven seasons, the third most in baseball, and despite his occasional temper tantrums he is one of the best pitchers in the game. So even though he won 18 games in 2007 and that his 16 wins in 2006 led the National League, we’re going with 2004 as his best season.
Not only because of the sparkling 2.75 ERA (and the fact that he led the league in hit batsmen), but just like E-ramis, when the Cubs needed him the most, he came through (while the rest of those choking dogs were gagging away their playoff spot.) In September and October that year, Carlos made six starts, and went 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA.
And did Dusty abuse him, too?
Oh, you bet your sweet ass he did.
He made 31 starts and threw more than 100 pitches in 27 of them.
He threw more than 120 pitches in ten of them.
In his last seven starts he averaged 117 pitches per start.
Did I mention he was 23 years old?
(Bangs head on table, rants about Dusty.)
3. Jon Lieber (2001) 20-6, 3.80 ERA, 232.1 IP, 148 K, 41 BB
Who was the only Cub to win 20 games in a season in the decade? Why Jon Lieber on the overachieving 2001 Cubs of course. Thankfully, he didn’t have Dusty Baker around to abuse him.
No, he had Don Baylor to do that.
To be fair, partly because Baylor was not as reckless, and partly because Lieber was so efficient, he didn’t throw that many pitches. In 34 starts he only threw more than 100 pitches 11 times. And he only did it once (100 on the nose once) in his last ten starts.
He also threw a one hit shutout against the Reds once on only 78 pitches.
But…twice in his Cubs tenure, first in 2001 (in that very same game against the Reds) then again the next season, he returned to a game after a rain delay of more than an hour and a half. WTF?
So when he blew out his elbow in 2002, just how surprised could anybody really be?
4. Ryan Dempster (2008) 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 174 H, 187 K, 76 BB
Dempster had been a starter early on in his career in both Florida and Cincinnati, and had been an All-Star in 2000. But then he caught Tommy John Disease in 2003 and when he joined the Cubs in 2004 he was a reliever. He was the Cubs closer from 2005 to 2007. So when the Cubs decided to turn him into a starter so that they could make Kerry Wood a closer, everyone was skeptical if either could do the job.
Dempster won 17 games, Wood saved 34, and both were All-Stars.
In fact, in 2008, Dempster was the Cubs best starter (sort of, more on that next). He ate innings, he threw strikes, he worked fast (not that it really matters) he did that weird glove flipping thing to avoid tipping his pitches.
He then started game one of the NLDS against the Dodgers, and he completely shit the bed, couldn’t get through the fifth inning, walked seven, and set the tone for a second straight playoff series where the Cubs flopped.
5. Ted Lilly (2008) 17-9, 4.09 ERA, 204.2 IP, 187 H, 184 K, 64 BB
Lilly didn’t get a start in the 2008 playoffs, but other than his ERA, his numbers weren’t that much different than Dempster’s. (The fact that he got lit up in game two of the NLDS in 2007 had to factor in to the decision to make him the “fourth” starter in the playoffs.)
He led the league in starts. He went 8-3 in the second half, was 10-4 on the road, and his ERA was only 3.32 in the second half. Other than Rich Harden (who went 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA in the second half) he was the best Cubs pitcher down the stretch.
But the playoffs came and went without him getting into a game.
1. Carlos Marmol (2007) 5-1, 1.43 ERA, 69.1 IP, 96 K, 35 BB, Opponent’s BA .169, Opponent’s OPS .508
This one was easy. Not only did Marmol have the best season of any reliever in the decade, he had the best season of any Cubs’ reliever ever. When you strike out 96 guys in 69 innings, you are more than getting it done. And opposing batters hit a laughable .169 against him.
Marmol has the funky delivery, the unhittable slider and the plus-fastball and when he’s got it all together, like he did in 2007, he’s a sight to behold.
Because he had a rough stretch (a long rough stretch, to be fair) in 2009, and wasn’t as dominant in 2008, a lot of people aren’t comfortable with Marmol as the closer heading into 2010.
He went 11-11 in save chances after Lou made him the closer last August, and he’s probably better suited to starting innings than coming in with runners on, because he’s fairly likely to wiggle out of his own messes (as long as he’s got an empty base or two to work with.)
But this isn’t about next year. It’s about 2007, and Marmol was the Ultimate Weapon, for at least one year.
2. Kyle Farnsworth (2001) 4-6, 2.76 ERA, 82 IP, 107 K, 29 BB
The Farns is typical of a lot of hard throwing relievers. He’s dumb as a board, likes to chase bar skanks, and when given a chance to body slam Paul Wilson he’ll do it happily. While his career was very much up and down with the Cubs, his 2001 season is almost as impressive as Marmol’s 2007. Well, maybe more like Marmol’s 2008. But 107 K’s in 82 innings is hard to ignore.
If only he’d been this good in 2003…oh, never mind.
Joe Borowski (2003) 2-2, 2.63 ERA, 68.1 IP, 66K, 19 BB, 33-35 Saves
And last (and maybe least) we get to the best season a Cubs’ closer had in the ’00s. Kerry Wood had a good one in 2008, and Dempster was pretty efficient in 2005, but when you factor in the pressure of a tight pennant race, nobody tops our man Sweaty Joe Borowski.
It’s not just that he was a great story. He was.
It’s not just that he is an awesome guy. He is.
It’s not just that he didn’t seem able to throw a strike until he was absolutely drowning in his own sweat. It was.
It was all of it. Joe Borowski, the well-traveled pitcher from Bayonne, NJ, a guy who didn’t establish himself as a major league pitcher until he was 31 in 2002, took the ball in a tight three-team pennant race and came through again, and again, and again.
Because he made several of them an adventure, would you have guessed he only blew two saves that season? Me neither. But I do remember that Borowski had balls, and that he came through a lot.
My favorite Borowski moments are these two:
September 3, 2003 — The Cubs and Cardinals are in the fourth game of that epic five game series at Wrigley around Labor Day weekend, and after winning two of the first three, the Cubs have fallen behind 7-3 in the seventh. But they score three in the bottom of the seventh to cut it to 7-6.
Mark Guthrie can’t get out of the top of the eighth after allowing a lead off triple to Fernando Vina, but he does manage to get two outs and leave our man Joe with runners at first and third and Scott Rolen batting.
Joe trots in and gets ahead of Rolen then on a 1-2 pitch gets him to fly out to Sammy. It’s still 7-6 Cardinals. Vina is still standing on third.
The Cubs tie it in the eighth when Mark Grudzielanek triples in Tony Womack with one out (off of Woody Williams–pitching on one day’s rest after starting the second game of the series). After Sosa pops out, Moises comes up and singles in Grudzielanek. Wrigley goes nuts.
Joe comes back out of the dugout to try to nail it down and pull the Cubs within a half game of first place.
Orlando Palmeiro flies to left. Then Edgar Renteria strikes out.
Lassie Edmonds, nursing a sore leg had been held back by The Genius for just this moment. He’s going to pinch hit and remind the Cubs that in the end, somehow, some way they always find a way to lose.
It takes Sweaty Joe all of four pitches to strike Edmonds out, as Edmonds swings and misses at the third strike and falls down in a glorious heap.
In the biggest game of the season (to date), Sweaty Joe faced four Cardinals and got them all out.
And my all-time favorite, October 10, 2003 — It’s game three of the NLCS and the Cubs are desperately trying to get the home field advantage back that they pissed away in an extra-inning game one loss. Kerry Wood, the hero of the NLDS is pitching and the Cubs give him a quick 2-0 lead in the second, but by the top of the eighth it’s 3-2 Marlins. Future Cub Chad Fox (guh) is in to pitch for Florida and with one out, he surrenders a pinch hit triple to Tom Goodwin. One batter later Randall Simon rips one into the right field seats and the Cubs have a 4-3 lead.
The Farns comes in to pitch the eighth, but he gives up a single to 19-year old (and skinny, and possibly sober) Miguel Cabrera to lead off the inning. Mike Mordecai bunts Cabrera to second. Then Jeff Conine lines to Kenny Lofton in center, so there are two outs and the Cubs might be able to leave the eighth with the lead.
Dusty wants Sweaty Joe to pitch to the lefty pinch hitter Todd Hollandsworth, and our hero comes in and in a NINE pitch at bat allows the game tying run on a single to Hollandsworth. He gets Mike Lowell out to end the inning, but we’re tied at four.
Little does Joe know, his long night is just starting.
The Cubs go down in order against convicted felon Ugy Urbina in the ninth, and Joe is back out to pitch the bottom.
Juan Pierre bunts to third and beats it out.
Luis Castillo sac bunts Pierre to second. One out.
Joe intentionally walks Pudge Rodriguez. First and second, one out. (Uh oh.)
Future Cub Derrek Lee flies to center, nobody advances. Two out.
Pierre steals third. Runners at the corners, two out.
Joe unintentionally (sort of) walks Cabrera.
Mike Mordecai bats with the bases loaded and Joe gets him to fly to Lofton. (Phew!)
Amazingly the Cubs trio of Gabor Bako, Alex Gonzalez and Ramon Martinez do not scratch a run across in the tenth.
Joe is back to work for the tenth. He’s already thrown 31 pitches.
In a seven pitch at bat he gets Conine to fly to Lofton. Way to use the big part of the park, Joe!
Lenny Fucking Harris pinch hits for Urbina, and since he was so lousy with the Cubs that year that they waived him, every Cubs fan expects Lenny to homer to win the game. But Joe gets him to ground to Martinez at second. Two out.
Lowell flies to Sammy and we are off to the tenth.
In the top of the tenth, Michael Tejera comes in to pitch to the Cubs lefties due up first, Simon and Lofton. Tejera is best remembered for pitching in the game two blowout and throwing a pitch on the fly into the Marlins dugout. Seriously.
He gets Simon to line to Castillo, but Lofton follows with an opposite field single. Runner at first, one out.
Joe’s up. Jack McKeon is so scared of Joe that he brings in a righty, Braden Looper to pitch to Joe. Shockingly, Dusty doesn’t let him hit. Instead, Doug Glanville pinch hits and triples over Pierre in center. Lofton scores, the Cubs lead!
Looper intentionally walks Sammy, and then Alou and E-ramis fail to get Glanville in from third.
So now, the Borowski-less Cubs have to get three outs against the top of the Marlins order.
Mike Remlinger comes in to pitch. He gets Juan Pierre to ground to Gonzalez. One out.
He strikes out Castillo, but Gabor can’t handle the third strike (of course he can’t!) and Castillo reaches. This is such a “Cub” way to lose this.
Pudge is up with the tying run at first. He taps one back to Remlinger who can easily throw out Castillo at second, but he chickens out and throws to first. Tying run at second, Derrek Lee is up.
Now is when it gets interesting. Lee hits one to E-ramis, who boots it. E-ramis does the frustrated “I’m going to pretend to throw it to first to show how mad I am” thing and Castillo just keeps running. E-ramis looks up and he’s got the ball and this crazy Dominican running is straight at him. About halfway to third, Luis realizes that E-ramis still has the ball. He stops and tries to head back to second, but E-ramis throws to Martinez, Castillo heads back towards third and E-ramis is waiting with Martinez’s return throw. It’s over.
In the wildest Cubs playoff game of recent vintage (to the end the right way, anyway), sweaty Joe played a big role. Sure he lost the battle with Hollandsworth in the eighth (on the ninth pitch of the at bat). But he got out of that inning without allowing another run. Then he kept the tie in the ninth and the tenth.
And that, is why I still love Sweaty Joe Borowski. And that’s why he had the best single season of any Cubs closer in the ‘oughts.
So there you have it. The Cubs all-oughts team. Enough to inspire pity, if not awe.