This edition of Shitty Cubs Games I’ve Attended does not involve a trip to Clark & Addison, but rather, 10 stops south on the red line at Sox Park (I have no idea if Comiskey Park had been re-branded as US Cellular Field by 2002 and I don’t care enough to look it up).
Heading into the first game of the interleague cross-town 3-game set on the morning of June 28th, the 2002 Cubs were appropriately shitty. Coming off a surprise run the previous season in 2001 in which they were not eliminated from postseason contention until a week remained in the season, hopes were running high for the 2002 Cubs. However, in retrospect, it seems the 2001 Cubs were a bit of a mirage, as they were carried on offense by Sammy Sosa, who had his finest individual season as a major league player. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a better example of one man carrying an over-.500 team as much as Sosa did in 2001. He led the team with 64 home runs, which was nearly four times as much as the next closest total (a 2-way tie between Matt Stairs and Rondell White with 17). His 160 RBI were nearly a hundred more than Ricky Gutierrez’ 66, which was good for second. As the Cubs hit 194 homeruns as a team in 2001, this mean that Sosa very nearly hit one third of his team’s homeruns that year. Though Sosa won the National League MVP in 1998 when he burst onto the scene with his epic homerun battle with Mark McGwire, he was probably more deserving of the honor in 2001, as the Cubs managed to win 88 games.
In addition to Sosa’s one-man show in 2001, the Cubs also got a career year out of Jon Lieber, who became the first Cub pitcher to win 20 games since Greg Maddux in 1992. It would be fair to expect Lieber to regress in 2002 (which he did).
Still, hopes were high in 2002. The Cubs had acquired steady veteran Moises Alou and, on the eve of Opening Day, acquired starting pitcher Matt Clement and reliever Antonio Alfonseca from Florida. The ’02 Cubs were also expecting a full season of Fred McGriff–acquired mid-season the year before–and the hope was that Kerry Wood would finally be able to stay healthy for a full season (this is not a recording)
As it turned out, amongst this group, only Clement and Wood were worth a damn in 2002. Alou was out of shape–on Opening Day that year he famously had to pull himself out of the lineup as his calf gave out while he was…standing in the outfield shagging flyballs in batting practice (Alou would redeem himself in 2003 and 2004 but the damage was done as far 2002 was concerned). McGriff–aka the Crime Dog–was a dead dog in April–whopping all of 1 homerun while slashing .205/.320/.289 (!) before his annual stats-drive restored his numbers to respectability. Again, though, the damage had been done. Alfonseca actually got off to a decent start in 2002 but because the Cubs were so bad in April, he didn’t get a lot of opportunities. By the end of the year, however, El Pulpo’s 9 blown saves ensured he was in the team photo of Colossal Disappointments for the 2002 Cubs.
The ’02 Cubs went 8-16 in April and followed that up with a 13-16 May. A third straight sub-.500 month in June sealed the fate of third-year manager Don Baylor, as Baylor was relieved of his duties on July 5th. Baylor’s last victory as Cubs’ skipper turned out to be the Sunday before his dismissal, when the Cubs salvaged the finale of a 3-game series against the crosstown White Sox 9-2. This of course, occurred two days after the game which is to be discussed here.
The Cubs came into the series against the White Sox with a 32-44 record. The Sox–two years removed from a playoff appearance–were rather medicore in their own right, coming in to the game with a 38-41 record.
As this was in the early days of interleague play (6th season), there was still a good amount of enthusiasm amongst the fans, in spite of the respective mediocre performances of each team. And so it was with this enthusiasm that I headed out into enemy territory to enjoy a Friday afternoon game under the sun. And when I say under the sun I mean under the sun as our seats, being as they were in the upper deck down the left-field line in a pre-reconfigured Comiskey Park, felt like I could reach out and touch the aforementioned heliosphere, being so ridiculously elevated in that mausoleum as I was. However, my altitude sickness was remedied by the events taking place on the field, as the Cubs hung a 6-spot on Sox starter Danny Wright in the second inning, punctuated by a 3-run home run by young Cubs “phenom” Corey Patterson. The bludgeoning continued in the second inning as the Cubs scored 2 more runs to chase Wright and take an 8-0 lead. Whoo boy! The party was on. I had been in Comiskey for a handful of Cubs/Sox games up until this point but hadn’t had as much fun as I had in those first 3 innings.
The score remained 8-0 as Kerry Wood took the mound for the fourth inning. Foreshadowing events that would occur in Game 7 of the NLCS in the following season when Wood carelessly walked banjo-hitting Brian Banks with a 2-run lead in the 5th inning, #34 slowly began losing control while pitching with an 8-run lead. It began when he plunked Paul Konerko in the helmet with 1 out (Konerko would later get his revenge..and then some). After walking noted Cub Killer (and Freddy Mercury doppelgänger) José Valentín, Wood allowed the Sox to get on the board when he allowed Carlos Lee (another Cub Killer) to drive Konerko in with a single. Wood got out of the inning and the Cubs went into the 5th up 8-1.
The Cubs went 3 up, 3 down in the top half of the 5th, and Wood began the bottom half of the frame by–try not to act surprised here–walking future Cub Kenny Lofton. Wood’s wildness continued as he threw a wild pitch to Ray Durham, allowing Lofton to advance. After Wood induced Durham to ground out, he proceeded to walk Frank Thomas.
It was at this point where I began to not only get mad at Kerry Wood but also the Cub fans around me. The early 8-0 lead kind of kicked off a celebration and it seemed the Cubs fans in my area had not settled back into the game to notice that Wood was doing his damndest to give the game back. As I looked around me all I could see were drunk idiots in Cubs gear standing around, high-fiving, talking trash with Sox fans etc. I was a drunk idiot in Cubs gear, too, but at least I was watching the game. I was thinking to myself, “8-1 lead and this guy’s walking the park; you pricks should start paying attention to the game again.” Sure enough, shortly after I held this thought (but not before Magglio Ordóñez inexplicably swung at the first pitch from Wood and grounded out), Konerko stepped into a meatball from Wood and knocked it over the left-field wall. It was the first hit of the inning for the Sox, and now the score was 8-4. In fact, of the 4 White Sox baserunners who had scored up until this point, 3 had reached base without the benefit of a hit (2 BBs and an HBP). Again, this was after the Cubs had been staked to an 8-0 lead.
Wood escaped further damage in the 5th inning and after yet another 3 up, 3 down inning for the Cubs in the top of the 6th, he took the mound in the bottom half of the inning with an 8-4 lead.
Predictably, Wood began the 6th inning with a walk, this one to Carlos Lee. After inducing a popfly from catcher Mark Johnson, Wood gave up a single to Royce Clayton and his day was done. Baylor pulled him and I was furious. The combination of alcohol in my system, while sitting about 15 feet from the sun, and the still-oblivious idiocy of Cub fans all around me laughing in their seats as Kerry Wood was walking the goddamn ballpark after being spotted an 8-run lead was compelling my rage to white-hot proportions (“DO YOU PEOPLE NOT SEE WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?!? WE PLAY 9 INNINGS FOR A REASON, ASSHOLES!”).
Not to to be outdone, Jeff Fassero–in to relieve Wood–walked the first batter he faced, Kenny Lofton. Suddenly, the tying run was at the plate. I think this bears repeating. With 1 out in the 6th inning, the Sox brought the tying run to the plate in a game in which the Cubs had led by eight after 3 innings.
This is the sequence allowed by Fassero from this point:
–Base hit by R. Durham, driving in 1 run (Cubs 8, White Sox 5)
–SAC Fly by F. Thomas, driving in 1 run (Cubs 8, White Sox 6)
–Base hit by M. Ordóñez , driving in 2 and tying the goddamn game 8-8.
By the time Konerko stepped to the plate, you could almost sense what was about to happen next. Sure enough, on a 1-1 pitch from Fassero, Konerko proceeded to deposit his second homerun of the day over the left-field wall. The Sox now led 10-8.
It was breathtaking how quickly the Cubs surrendered an 8-0 lead. It only took them less than 4 innings to give it back. The Cubs got a run back in the top of the 7th but, lest we think they were going to come back, Kyle Farnsworth walked to the mound with a can of kerosene tucked neatly under his arm and proceeded to allow the Sox to score three more times in the 8th inning to ice the game. The Sox won going away, 13-9, without even needing their last wraps in the bottom of the 9th inning. They overcome an 8-0 deficit to win. By four.
Walking out of the park that day, and walking around outside the park upon my exit, I was quite the angry, drunken mess. “BIG DEAL,” I shouted toward celebrating Sox fans, “YOU BEAT THE CUBS. GOOD FOR YOU!” My anger masked a pain that was nearly too much for me to bear. In fact, I made a vow that very afternoon when I swore that I would never, ever, go to a Cubs/Sox game on the Southside ever again. Though this was my 5th visit to U.S. Comiskular to see these two teams battle, I’ve kept my word. While I have been back to the park itself on a couple of occasions to see the Sox play, I have never once, since this game, set foot in that place to watch them play the Cubs.
And I never will.