CHICAGO -- One would never know it by looking at the standings these days, but it was only 10 years ago that the Marlins and Cubs — both currently entrenched in last place in their respective divisions — were involved in an epic playoff battle, the 2003 National League Championship Series.
The Marlins won Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field to advance to the World Series, which they won in six games over the New York Yankees. But it was the NLCS, more so than the World Series, that some former Marlins players and coaches say they remember most vividly.
“We definitely celebrated more here than after winning the World Series,” said Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, who was a member of the ’03 team. “We were just beat [exhausted] after the World Series.”
Here are a few of their memories:
First-base coach Perry Hill said that with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7, when he felt confident that the Marlins had it won, he dabbed petroleum jelly on his eyebrows in preparation for the clubhouse celebration.
“Fighters do it to keep the sweat out of our eyes, so I’m thinking, ‘Shoot, let’s give it a try. It may keep champagne out of my eyes,’ ” Hill said.
President of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said that when it looked as though the Marlins’ season was about to end, with the Cubs leading by a score of 3-1 in the eighth inning of Game 6, he was trying to figure out the words he would use to address the team afterward.
Then Cubs fan Steve Bartman entered the picture, and the rest is history.
“I was a young GM at the time, and I was trying to figure out what to say to the players, to say goodbye on the season,” Beinfest recalled.
“Then that eight-run inning happened, and I didn’t have to make the speech. Thank goodness it never happened.”
Pierre said there was so much commotion in the Marlins’ clubhouse following Game 7 that the National League championship trophy presented to the team was ripped to pieces from being passed around so much.
“It was in shambles,” Pierre said.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond, a backup catcher on the ’03 team, said that by the end of the night, “there was about four inches of beer on the clubhouse floor.”
Eventually, about an hour after the final out, the celebration moved from the cramped clubhouse back onto the field. Pierre said that the Marlins were shocked to see “about 10,000” long-suffering Cubs fans still in their seats, trying to get over the loss.
“I remember looking up and seeing this old woman — I mean, she had to be 80-something — and she was just bawling,” Pierre said. “They couldn’t believe it.”
Standing inside the same clubhouse Monday where 10 years ago he and his teammates celebrated one of the biggest moments in Marlins history, Pierre said the memories still give him “goose bumps and chills.”
Said Redmond: “Every time I come to Chicago, usually that’s the first thing I think about, that series. Those two games changed everything for us. Those are games we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives. Each game probably will probably get a little bit better as we get older.”