Chicago, Oct. 14, 2003 — They counted down the outs in Wrigley Field, until finally there were none left to count.
The Chicago Cubs are in their first World Series since 1945, with a chance to end a 95-year championship drought, after defeating the Florida Marlins, 3-1, in game six of their National League Championship series.
Kicking off the outs countdown was actor/comedian Bernie Mac, a Chicago native, who sang "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" for the seventh-inning stretch. Or at least he began to sing it. Mac's microphone shorted out halfway through his rendition, and the crowd finished for him.
Afterwards, Mac said the malfunction was a blessing: "I was going to change the words to the song from 'Cubbies' to 'champions,' but what was I thinking, celebrating six outs early as a Cubs fan? I was not the Cubs' friend today, but electricity sure the hell was."
The Cubs and starter Mark Prior entered the eighth inning holding on to a 3-0 lead, and the crowd rose to its feet. Mike Mordecai led off with a routine pop fly to left field. But since nothing in Cubs Land is routine, the assemblage at the corner of Clark and Addison held their breath until the ball was safely in Moisés Alou's glove.
Five more outs.
Juan Pierre then doubled, momentarily quieting the roaring crowd.
Up next was Luis Castillo. After an eight-pitch battle, the second baseman hit a foul ball to left field. Alou raced over and made the catch, tossing it afterwards to a fan with a baseball cap who had his headset knocked off as spectators reached for the ball. The fan bent over to retrieve his headset, allowing Alou to make a fine leaping grab.
"I can't believe I didn't see the catch, but as a Cubs diehard, this was the greatest moment of my life," said the fan, who identified himself only as Steve. "He threw me that ball, and I was out of my mind with excitement."
Prior had Iván Rodríguez down 0-2 when the All-Star catcher singled to left, scoring Pierre. Cubs fans started to cover their eyes. They'd seen their share of collapses before. 1969, when the dreaded Mets overtook their season of destiny. 1984, when Popeye-forearmed Steve Garvey and the Padres came from behind in the NLCS.
But not this night. Sure-handed shortstop Alex Gonzalez snared a sharp ground ball off Miguel Cabrera's bat and flipped it to second baseman Mark Grudzielanek for the force.
Grudzielanek, having clearly lost track of outs in the frame—"for some reason, I forgot to count the foul ball," he would later say—took the throw, wheeled, pivoted, and in an image that will make Cubs fans smile for decades to come, fired a bullet to a surprised Randall Simon at first—for a double play the Cubs didn't even need.
The throw, by the way, was in plenty of time.
Three more outs.
The Cubs went quietly in their half of the inning. When Prior walked out of the dugout to start the ninth, instead of closer Joe Borowski, the noise in The Friendly Confines was nothing short of seismic.
Visibly moved, Prior stopped at the third-base line and pointed to the crowd, as if to say "this one's for you." Then the Cubs' ace and workhorse, having already thrown 110 pitches in the contest, strode to the mound, looking for one more inning of magic.
On a 1-2 pitch, Derrick Lee hit a fly ball straight to Sammy Sosa in right field.
Two more outs.
On a 2-2 pitch, Prior reared back and threw perhaps the hardest fastball he'd thrown all night, blowing it past a swinging Mike Lowell.
One more out.
Fans who were total strangers began holding onto each other. Some even started to pray.
Jeff Conine took Prior to a full count before launching a high fly ball that stopped time in Wrigley Field. Fans watched and cameras flashed as the rawhide cut through the night sky, before finally, harmlessly, blessedly, mercifully, landing softly in center fielder Kenny Lofton's glove.
No more outs.
The Cubs were in.
And the celebration began.
Prior was mobbed at the mound. The players finally lifted him on their shoulders and paraded him around the dugout, as he slapped hands with fans.
Amidst the dancing, jumping, hugging and general unbridled jubilation, Ron Santo, the great Cubs third baseman, was seen openly weeping. Mike Murphy and other members of the original Bleacher Bums squad, most now in their sixties, embraced each other with raucous joy, chanting "Hey HEY!" over and over.
One fan took to the field and snatched a handful of meaningful souvenirs before being hauled off by security.
"I grabbed two pieces of ivy from the wall," said Jeffrey Roder, 40, whose family has had Cubs season tickets since his grandfather returned from World War II in 1945.
"My dad passed last year," Roder explained. "I'm going to put one on his grave, and one on his dad's grave. Grandpa, we're back in the World Series. And this time, we're gonna win it all!"
First they have to beat either the Yankees, who finished the season tied for the best record in baseball, or the equally formidable Red Sox.
But getting the opportunity...well, it was a feeling most Cubs fans have been waiting a lifetime for.
If you like this "Rewriting That Game" article and would like to see one about a game whose outcome you wish had been different, write the author and he'll take it under consideration.
The author means no disrespect to the Florida Marlins or their fans in writing this fantasy article.