The scene at Wrigley Field was unforgettable: 41,000+ people on their feet, obnoxiously mocking the Braves equally obnoxious tomahawk chant in perfect unison. Randall Simon had just singled to right, bringing home the only runs the Cubs needed en route to a 3-1 victory over the Braves. The win put the Cubs ahead two games to one in the 2003 NLDS, ultimately setting the stage for the organization’s first postseason series victory in 95 years. Greg Maddux took the loss; Mark Prior the win.
It’s now slightly over 10 years later and I’m still at a loss of words when I think about that game, and more importantly, everything that was supposed to happen after it. It was as if the torch had been passed right before our eyes. Prior was in control from start to finish, tossing all nine while yielding just two hits and striking out seven. This performance, against one of baseball’s all time greats, would spring board him into a decade of his own spotlight. There’d be All Star appearances and Cy Youngs awards and countless complete game shutouts and late game no-hitter bids. And the team would thrive off Prior’s success. We’d actually play for October on a consistent basis, and compete with the Cardinals for division titles and pennants and maybehopefullyiftheresagod a World Series championship. And maybe, just maybe, actually win the. whole. fuckin. thing.
But Tom House’s flawed pitching mechanics, combined with grossly negligent medical oversight by the Cubs staff, had other plans for Prior. As did Brad Hawpe’s May 28th 2005 line drive off Prior’s elbow and Dusty Baker’s triple digit pitch counts. At the end of the day, we were left with nothing more than the only thing we’ve come to know as Cubs fans – sheer and utter disappointment.
Let’s be clear about something here though… when it comes to Mark Prior’s career, we all lost. There is no silver lining, god works in mysterious way bullshit. Fact of the matter is we all missed out on something special. Pitchers with his makeup are a once-in-a-generation kind of rare. It was more than just an arsenal of plus-plus pitches. It was smooth and intimidating, graceful and dominant. He worked a lineup at 23 like he was some kind of Roger Clemens/Greg Maddux love child, and it was awesome. It was 98 knee high on the black in the 1st, and 98 knee high one inch off the black in the 8th. Simply put, he was the most exciting, awe-inspiring Cub of my time. And now he’s officially out of baseball.
Normally, I’d say it’s always sad to be a Cubs fan. The same holds true today, no doubt. Just stings a littler harder. (Take me off suicide watch by following me on twitter @Barstoolcarl)
P.S. Wainwright is 32. Prior is 33. Makes you think…