Cubs Classics: 2000’s Week

4 years agoBruce Levine

The 2000s began with baseball taking on a more international look. The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets traveled 13 hours to have the first-ever opening day for MLB in Japan.

Cubs GM Ed Lynch hired Don Baylor as the team’s first African American manager in that offseason. The changing of the guard in that decade included a new president of the Cubs. Top Blackhawks official John McDonough replaced Andy MacPhail after a 12-year run.

Under GM Jim Hendry, who took over for Lynch in 2002, the franchise went to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 100 years. Iconic managers Dusty Baker and Lou Pinella helped make Cub baseball relevant again in the decade.

A near-miss of winning a National League pennant in 2003 left a bitter taste of “The Bartman Game” in the mouth of Cubs fans until 2016. Some of the top games of the decade were historic in both the Chicago area and National perspective.

Here are five memorable games from the decade:

Sept. 27, 2001: Sammy waves the flag

Dealing with these trying times right now and the COVID-19 virus, it is surely the hardest event Americans have had to deal with since the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. MLB was off for a week and a no-fly weekend was in effect for three days after the 9/11 incident.

In a state of shock, America welcomed back baseball as the season was coming to an end. On Sept. 27, the Chicago Cubs returned home for the first time since the disaster to play a night game against the Houston Astros. The Cubs lost 6-5, but the real story of the game was the way superstar right fielder Sammy Sosa twice captured the emotion and imagination of the capacity crowd at Wrigley Field.

Sosa always ran to his position in a full sprint once the Cubs took the field to begin the ball game. On this night, he bolted out of the dugout with a miniature American flag in his right hand as he ran to the right-field corner and ran back toward the center with the flag blowing in the breeze putting the crowd in a frenzy of joy.

Sosa, however, was not finished with the dramatics. Shane Reynolds, the Astros starter, induced the first two hitters in the lineup to ground out, bringing the Cubs right fielder to the plate. With 58 home runs, Sosa got a slider down the middle of the plate that he drove into the gap in right-center field. The ball landed in the basket and as Sosa rounded first, he took out the same miniature flag and waved it as he rounded the bases. The 38,000 fans in the park erupted and demanded a curtain call.

“I did it and God wanted this to happen,” Sosa said. “I did it for America.”

Did you know

  • In late September 2001, the whole country was on a state of alert notice and live sporting events had extra security including SWAT teams positioned on rooftops including the game at Wrigley that evening.
  • The top movies of 2001 were “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Shrek.”
  • The top song was Janet Jackson’s “All for you.”
  • Since 2001, all U.S mail has been treated with ionizing radiation to kill viruses and bacteria.

Sept. 27, 2003: Cubs beat the Pirates to clinch division title

Dusty Baker was in his first season as the North Siders manager helped motivate this club to an 88-win season. Baker had managed the San Francisco Giants to the World Series and was nine outs from winning the Fall Classic before an implosion by his bullpen. Baker and the Giants lost in seven games and the feisty competitor was ready for a new challenge.

GM Jim Hendry fleeced the Pirates twice in huge trades, acquiring third baseman Aramis Ramirez and leadoff man/centerfielder Kenny Lofton in separate deals.

The Cubs had not won a division in 14 years and their magic number was 3 when they were forced to play a doubleheader on this Saturday due to a rainout on the previous day. On Baker’s staff, he had three young aces in Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. All these right-handed pitchers were 26 years old or younger to go along with Matt Clement, who pitched the decisive Game 2 of this twin bill.

Houston was trailing the Cubs with Games 160 and 161 to play on this fall afternoon. Cubs ace Mark Prior was the starter for Game 1 and he dominated the Bucs in a 4-2 victory. Prior won his career-best 18th game, going 6.2 innings and allowing 7 hits while striking out 10 batters. Kyle Farnsworth and Cubs closer Joe Borowski shut it down from there.

Craig Wilson gave Pittsburgh the lead with a solo home run in the 4th inning. The Cubs loaded the base with no outs in the bottom of the inning and scored twice. Sammy Sosa and Rob Mackowiak supplied RBIs in the next two innings setting up the drama of Game 2.

Clement was up to the task as the Cubs dominated from jump street after a Sosa 1st-inning home run (his 40th of the season). This was also the first division championship ever cliched at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. (Also the first-ever Central division title after the leagues were divided into three divisions.) The games won the division by one game moving on to face Atlanta in the NLDS.

“We never gave up,” Sosa said after the Game 2 clincher. “The whole team came through together. We just stayed together and Dusty did an unbelievable job. For us to win this in Chicago is like a dream come true.”

Did you know 

  • In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq with a marketing theme called “Operation Iraqi freedom.” The country was mired in this episode for another seven
  • The big movies in 2003 were “Finding Nemo” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
  • Juan Catalan was cleared of murder charges because footage of him and his daughter at an LA Dodgers appeared in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The murder took place some 20 miles from the crime scene at the time of the murder.
  • “The Bartman Game” crushed the hopes of the Cubs going to the World Series.

June 29, 2007: Ramirez’s walk-off homer

In a season that had the Cubs playing under .500 often during their first 80 games, this game helped turn around the season for newly named manager Lou Piniella and his club. Piniella was brought in to replace Dusty Baker after a very poor 2006 season.

The Cubs had parted ways with long time team president Andy MacPhail after a 12-year run. John McDonough was named team president in that offseason and worked with VP of business Crane Kenney and GM Jim Hendry to sign superstar outfielder Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $126 million deal. 

This game featured left-handed pitcher Rich Hill against rookie Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo. The North Siders were riding the waves of a six-game winning streak when the first-place Brewers came to town. Hill surrendered 5 runs in the 1st inning that included a three-run homer from Kevin Mench. After Hill left the game in the 4th, the bullpen put up 6 innings of shutout ball.

That helps set the stage for a 9th-inning come-from-behind walk-off win. Trailing 5-3 in the 9th, Francisco Cordero entered the game. He got Ryan Theriot on a pop up to the second base. Both Soriano and Mike Fontenot singled. With men on second and third, Derrek Lee hit a sac fly to deep right field.

Enter Ramirez. Down 5-4, he jumped on the first pitch and drove a breaking ball into the right-field bleachers for an improbable walk-off home run and a raucous reception by his teammates at home plate.

Fun facts of 2007

  • On the very day of the Ramirez walk-off, the first iPhone was first released
  • Of course, the most famous person in America was Apple creator Steve Jobs
  • The minimum wage was $5.85 per hour.
  • Time magazine’s person of the year was Vladimir Putin.

Sept. 14, 2008: Zambrano’s no-hitter

A most improbable no-hitter at an even more improbable venue occurred on Sept. 14, 2008, at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wis.

For the second time in the ballpark’s existence, the home team for a baseball game was not the Brewers. Nobody could imagine what fate had in store for Carlos Zambrano and his team that night.

Due to perceived damage and havoc of Hurricane Ike as it approached the Texas panhandle, MLB moved the Cubs-Astros series from Houston to the guaranteed site of Miller Park in Milwaukee with its retractable roof.

The teams were set to play a two-game set on the 14th and 15th of the month. The third game was rescheduled for September 29th in Houston if the game was deemed necessary. At the time the Cubs were leading the NL Central race and the Astros were in the Wild-Card hunt. Miller Park was used once previous to this series by the Indians and Angels in April of 2007 with bad storms hitting Ohio.

The Cubs were the visiting club despite the fact the crowd was 90 percent Cubs fans making the 90-mile trip from Chicago to watch their team play Houston. Twenty three thousand, four hundred forty one fans were on hand to witness history as Zambrano faced the Astros Randy Wolf on that Sunday night.

Read more on Zambrano’s no-hitter here.

Sept. 20, 2008: Cubs clinch back-to-back division titles for first time in 100 years

We will not let a century in the making story get ruined by the fact that the Cubs did very little with a well-earned division championship in 2008. On Sept. 20th, the Cubs clinched their first back-to-back first place finishes in 100 years.

By defeating the St Louis Cardinals 5-4, Lou Pinella’s team had made good on a run at a postseason for the second straight year after getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS. This time was different.

Or so they thought.

Not since the World Series-winning clubs of 1907-08 had the franchise looked so convincing going into the playoffs. They faced Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers, who were underdogs coming into the NLDS. The Cubs had the best record in the National League, winning 97 games.

The North Siders sent 8 players to the All-Star game at old Yankee Stadium. They never trailed in the NL Central after May 26th and won the division by 7.5 games.

Pinella was named NL manager of the year and catcher Geovany Soto took home the NL Rookie of the Year. But again, a playoff meltdown found the Cubs getting swept for the second straight postseason.

But we digress, as the 41,597 in attendance for the division clincher enjoyed watching Ted Lilly win his 16th game and Kerry Wood notch his 32nd save on a Saturday afternoon start.

Chicago beat up Cards starter Joel Pineiro with a 3-run 2nd inning and 2 more in the fourth. Lilly went 7, allowing a 4-run 6th inning (the damage was mostly done via a Troy Glaus 3-run homer) as Carlos Marmol and Wood cleaned it up from there. It was on to the NLDS for yet another huge disappointment but on this day, it was all balloons and seashells for the Cubs and their fans.

Did you know?

  • In 2008, the Cubs set an all-time attendance mark of 3,300,200 people going through the turnstiles. That is still the highest single-season attendance in franchise history (99 percent capacity).
  • A movie ticket was $7.
  • The U.S. economy faced the worst financial crisis since the depression of 1929 (sound familiar?).
  • Barack Obama became the first African-American president.
  • The most popular TV shows were “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Bruce Levine is a contributor to Marquee Sports Network and a baseball analyst for 670 The Score.

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