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Cubs changed forever by Game 6 in 2003

Chicago Cubs left fielder Moises Alou reaches instands for foul deflected by Steve Bartman during Game 6 National League championship

Chicago Cubs left fielder Moises Alou reaches into the stands for the foul deflected by Steve Bartman during Game 6 of the National League championship series in this Oct. 14, 2003, file photo at Wrigley Field. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

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VIDEO: Bartman-Alou play (Cubs vs. Marlins - 2003 NLCS Game 6)
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Updated: October 14, 2013 2:01PM

It has been 10 years since the sky fell on the Cubs. If you think that’s overstating things, then you weren’t at Wrigley Field the night everything fell apart.

That was the night the Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series. It was the night they found out how far away they really were.

What happened on Oct. 14, 2003, encapsulated everything about the afflicted franchise and set it on a course that led to where it is today, rebuilding its way out of a quarry. It’s fair to say the Cubs are as far from their first World Series title since 1908 as they have ever been.

But it also was the night that led to unprecedented interest in the Cubs. The next season, they drew 3 million fans for the first time in team history, beginning a string of eight consecutive seasons in which they went over that mark.

They had gotten so close in 2003 that what previously had been a happier existence in Wrigleyville gave way to fan restlessness, anger and expectation. It’s why the Cubs would spend a ridiculous $136 million on Alfonso Soriano in late 2006. It’s why they neglected the farm system for so long in favor of acquiring veterans. Fans had had a taste and wanted more. The franchise was desperate to feed them.

What stood out that night was how red the ivy was on the outfield walls — who gets to see Wrigley in October? — and how heavy the gloom was when shortstop Alex Gonzalez mishandled a ground ball that could have gotten the Cubs out of the eighth inning. Remember, the Cubs were leading the Florida Marlins 3-1 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at that time. Did we mention they were five outs from the World Series? They were five outs from the World Series.

But the atmosphere said otherwise. The atmosphere, stoked by 95 years of futility, said calamity was right around the corner. You could feel it in the old ballpark. It had its own gravity.

The Marlins scored eight runs in the inning, won the game, won Game 7 and went on to win the World Series. How’s that for a declarative sentence?

The Ricketts family bought the team in 2009, slashed the budget and tore apart the big-league product with the idea of starting over, beginning at the minor-league level. And here the Cubs are today, dead to the world.

They won six postseason games in 2003, which was twice as many as they had won since their last World Series appearance in 1945.

It wasn’t enough. Not even close.


Twitter: @MorrisseyCST

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