The “Steve Bartman moment” in Game 6 stands out as the most memorable from the 2003 National League Championship Series as the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins forced a decisive Game 7. On this day 20 years ago, however, the series got off to a memorable start for the team from South Florida.
In a contest that featured a big comeback and a blown save, it was Mike Lowell who played the role of hero. His pinch-hit solo home run in the 11th inning was ultimately the difference as Florida topped the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 by a 9-8 score.
After trailing 4-0 early, the Marlins used a two-run single from Iván Rodríguez in the top of the ninth to take an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the inning at Wrigley Field on Oct. 7, 2003. Florida closer Ugueth Urbina was one away from the save when he left a 1-1 slider out over the middle of the plate to Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. Sosa left no doubt as he crushed Urbina’s offering onto Waveland Avenue for the game-tying two-run home run.
Since a hand injury suffered in August, Lowell, an All-Star, had largely been kept out of the everyday lineup. Yet to record a hit in the postseason, Lowell changed that as he took Guthrie’s 3-2 pitch over the wall in dead centerfield for the go-ahead solo home run.
Up 9-8, the Marlins looked to do further damage as they loaded the bases with one out, but former Florida closer Antonio Alfonseca was able to get rookie Miguel Cabrera to line into an inning-ending double play. Braden Looper, however, needed just 10 pitches to retire the Cubs in order in the bottom of the inning to collect the save.
Although they ended poorly, things couldn’t have started much better for the Cubs. Moises Alou, a hero for the Marlins during their run to the 1997 world title, blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to highlight a four-run inning.
Down 4-0, the Marlins used three home runs in the third to take the lead. After Rodriguez’s three-run shot got Florida on the board, back-to-back blasts from Cabrera and Juan Encarnación put the Fish in front, 5-4.
A sacrifice fly from Jeff Conine in the sixth increased the lead to 6-4, but the Cubs answered in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer from Alex Gonzalez – not to be confused with the Marlins’ shortstop of the same name – to draw even.
Gonzalez finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs for Chicago. Luis Castillo added three hits and a run for the Marlins while Rodriguez plated five of the nine Florida runs.
The Cubs would bounce back to win the next three games but could not hold the 3-1 series lead. Prior to the pennant-clinching win in Game 7, the Marlins had the series lead just once. It came courtesy of a pinch-hit Lowell homer on this day two decades ago.
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Mike Ferguson is a contributor for Fish on First, who covers Miami Marlins history. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.