Times baseball writer George Castle’s 11th book presents 10 “What if’s” in Cubs history. “Alou Makes the Catch: An Alternative History of the Chicago Cubs” plays off real persons and events to show how the star-crossed team’s championship drought might have been broken on several occasions since 1908.
In this excerpt, Castle sketches what might have happened had Steve Bartman never been near the infamous foul ball. “Alou Makes the Catch” costs $2.99, is viewed on a Kindle and can be ordered from Amazon.com.
Luis Castillo didn’t give up easily, but Mark Prior kept dealing. Castillo worked the count full. He then sent another foul high in the sky above the third-base line, near the Cubs’ bullpen. Running harder than he had all season, left fielder Alou charged across the foul line and made a dip-glove catch for the second out. Prior then retired Pudge Rodriguez on a long fly to center fielder Kenny Lofton, pride of East Chicago, Ind.
In the ninth, Mike Lowell popped a fastball straight up to second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. He squeezed the precious ball. All hell broke loose as dozens of security men came out to ring the field. A scrum of Cubs descended on closer Joe Borowski, tackling him. Down the left-field line, in the first row, Steve Bartman was so ecstatic that he knocked off both his headphones and his glasses. Thousands of fans gathered outside Wrigley Field. They hugged, kissed, and broke out into impromptu conga lines. They guzzled from bottles and flasks. A cacophony of car horns sounded all over Chicago.
The Cubs were in the World Series for the first time in 48 years. There was nothing much more to say.
The Yankees and Red Sox were rifling each other’s pitching staffs in Game 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series Oct. 15–16 at Yankee Stadium. Finally, the Red Sox took a 5–2 lead in Game 7. A tiring Pedro Martinez gamely took the ball for the bottom of the eighth, but allowed a run. The Yankees had a runner on first with one out. Red Sox manager Grady Little, exercising caution over emotion, decided to replace his ace with lefty reliever Alan Embree. He retired both Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. In the ninth, Little trudged out new closer Scott Williamson for his second straight save attempt. Williamson retired the hated Bombers 1-2-3.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would have his dream World Series. He looked skyward with silent thanks.
After the Cubs lost Game 1 in Fenway Park, Carlos Zambrano, who had won 13 in the regular season, now had to keep the Cubs from falling into a hole in Game 2. Other than pitching around and eventually walking David Ortiz, “Big Z” Zambrano was sharp that day. His pitch count climbing past 120, Zambrano finally was lifted with one out in the eighth, pointing to the sky as he left. Kyle Farnsworth retired the Red Sox and turned the ball over to Borowski in the ninth. Ortiz flew out deep to Lofton to end Game 2 and send the Series to Wrigley Field tied 1–1.
The Cubs then won two of the next three at a joyous Friendly Confines, sending the Series back to Fenway. On Oct. 25, Little gambled for everything by starting Pedro Martinez on three days’ rest against Zambrano in Game 6. Lofton led off the game with a homer into the Red Sox bullpen. In the third, Aramis Ramirez lofted a three-run homer over the Monster.
Meanwhile, Zambrano gave up solo homers to Ortiz and Bill Mueller. But Big Z fanned 10 through seven innings. Borowski came in for the ninth and gave up a Manny Ramirez homer with one out, then got the final two outs.
Baseball and much of the country stopped in its tracks to ponder what had just happened. The Cubs had finally exorcized all of the ghosts dragging their balls and chains through team history. At long last, next year was this year.