While their playoff history is small, the Florida/Miami Marlins have plenty of memorable postseason moments. The most infamous, however, came on this day 20 years ago.
In a contest that will live in infamy to baseball fans on the north side of Chicago, a moment involving a fan reaching for a foul ball served as the catalyst for an eight-run eighth inning for the Florida Marlins. The Marlins used the big frame to force a decisive Game 7 in the National League Championship Series with an 8-3 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Up 3-0 through seven innings, the Cubs were six outs away from their first World Series appearance in 58 years on Oct. 14, 2003. To that point, the Marlins had just three hits and no answer for Chicago starter Mark Prior.
Following a one-out double from Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo lifted a flyball to shallow left field that swung momentum drastically. As the ball tailed into the bleachers, Cubs left fielder Moises Alou leaped up to try to make a play on the ball. Before it could come down toward his glove, it was touched by a fan named Steve Bartman and landed harmlessly in the bleachers.
Although it’s highly questionable whether he would have made the play, Alou immediately showed his displeasure with the fan. From there, things started to unravel for the Cubs.
Castillo walked on a wild pitch to bring the tying run to the plate. Ivan Rodriguez then singled home Pierre to break up the shutout. On the very next pitch, Miguel Cabrera rolled a routine ground ball to shortstop, but Chicago’s Alex Gonzalez was unable to handle it and the bases were loaded.
With just one out, Derrek Lee took Prior’s next offering to left for the game-tying two-run double. Just like that, the game was tied and Prior’s evening was over.
Kyle Farnsworth was called upon and intentionally walked Mike Lowell to load the bases with one out. Jeff Conine followed with a sacrifice fly to give Florida its first lead, but the Marlins were far from done.
After Todd Hollandsworth walked to load the bases again, pinch hitter Mike Mordecai unloaded them with a bases-clearing double to push the lead to 7-3. Pierre, who doubled and scored to start the rally, singled home Mordecai to cap the scoring.
Florida’s Ugueth Urbina retired each of the six batters he faced to end the contest.
For most of the night, a celebration seemed inevitable for the long-suffering fans of the Windy City. Sammy Sosa got the scoring started with an RBI double in the first before scoring on a wild pitch in the sixth to push the Cubs’ lead to 2-0. After Bernie Mac sang “root, root, root for the champs” in his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, Mark Grudzielanek singled home Paul Bako to push the lead to three.
Inevitably, the Marlins went on to win Game 7 as the “Curse of the Billy Goat” lived on for the Cubs faithful. Bartman became a dirty word on the city’s north side as he was blamed for the team’s shortcomings following the club’s disastrous eighth inning.
The Marlins would go on to win their second World Series in seven years by beating the New York Yankees in six games. Their biggest inning during that postseason was an eight-run eighth that came on this day two decades ago.
Mike Ferguson is a contributor for Fish on First, who covers Miami Marlins history. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson