Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cubs vs. Yankees, 2003

     The New York Yankees are in town this weekend to visit the Cubs for the first time since the two clubs staged a memorable series in June 2003. This years Cubs appear hard-pressed to stay out of the cellar, but in 2003 the Cubs were destined to win a division championship. They would have met the Yankees again in that years World Series but for their unfortunate meltdown in Games 6 and 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. All that was a long way off on the first weekend of June. 

     Sammy Sosa’s suspension for using a corked bat was still pending when the New York Yankees invaded Wrigley Field just three days after the episode, so he was in the lineup against the 26-time world champions, who were playing the Cubs for the first time since the 1938 World Series.
     The park was absolutely packed for all three games, and the atmosphere was fully charged. The first game, on Friday, June 6, was played in a light mist under cloudy skies. The Yankees led 5-0 after two and a half innings, but Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano and four relievers held them in check after that. A two-run homer by second baseman Ramon Martinez in the third and a solo shot by center fielder Corey Patterson in the eighth got the Cubs back in the game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs had the tying runs on second and third and the winning run at the plate when Hee Seop Choi struck out swinging.
     Saturday’s game matched Cubs righthander Kerry Wood against Roger Clemens, a six-time Cy Young award winner who was still potent as ever at the age of 40. Wood had exploded onto the scene five years earlier, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth major-league outing. Only two Astros reached base, one on a scratch single off the glove of third baseman Kevin Orie and the other when he was hit by a pitch. Eight pitches were hit into fair territory, just two out of the infield. With 20 strikeouts in a single game, Wood had joined a very exclusive club whose only other member was Clemens. He’d won 13 games for the season, fanned 233 batters in 167 innings, and been named Rookie of the Year. He had battled injuries and inconsistency since then, but he was coming into his own by 2003, and he made the All-Star team for the first time.
     Wood admitted he was thrilled to be facing Clemens, a fellow Texan and (along with Nolan Ryan) his idol. Adding some spice to the mix was the fact that Clemens was seeking his 300th victory.
     Both pitchers were sharp. A solo homer by Hideki Matsui in the fifth was the Yankees’ lone hit off Wood for the first seven innings. Clemens retired 15 straight Cubs in one stretch and carried a two-hit shutout into the bottom of the seventh. With two on and one out, New York manager Joe Torre removed Clemens and handed the ball to reliever Juan Acevedo. Clemens did not appear to be happy, and he was less so when Cubs first baseman Eric Karros drove Acevedo’s first offering into the left-field bleachers to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
     The drama wasn’t over yet. With two on and two out in the Yankees’ eighth, Wood issued a walk to Derek Jeter. Cubs skipper Dusty Baker called for lefty Mike Remlinger to face the next hitter, Jason Giambi. Wood departed to a standing ovation; he had allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out 11. Giambi, a former American League MVP, had already clouted 14 homers on the season, including one the day before. After a swinging strike and a called strike, he waited out three deliveries that were off the mark. Then, with the crowd roaring, the baserunners going, and no margin for error, the crafty Remlinger threw a changeup, right over the heart of the plate. Giambi swung through it for strike three.
     The Cubs won 5-2. “The most electric game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Karros.
     The Cubs won again Sunday night, defeating the Yankees 8-7. Entertaining as it was, the series against the New Yorkers was hardly crucial, for there were still 101 games left in the season. But the Cubs were gaining credibility and confidence. “You don’t know,” Baker said, “if this is a defining moment or a turning point until down the road.”

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert

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