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If you get to the pinnacle of the mountain after a 162-game, snow-covered climb, you deserve to have more than one game to prove your worth.
One word can be powerful
Fans want to believe that after the playoffs are over, the best team won.
so without wild cards and small divisions, we'd have more turnover in who plays for and wins championships, not less.
A series is a story. One game is just one word.
In 2003, I remember the chatter about how historic it was for my team, the Chicago Cubs, to have a 3-1 lead in the NLCS only to have the then-Florida Marlins storm back and beat us in our own house.
The San Francisco Giants are this year's 2003 Marlins after being down 3-1 and winning yet another elimination game to knock off the St. Louis Cardinals. [...]
But when the Marlins did it to my Cubs team (after we beat them in Games 2, 3 and 4), history was made.
When I look back at that history, I often think about what really changed during that series. We always look for a moment and a momentum shift that explains it all, but the players usually are surviving pitch to pitch. I know from the time we entered the race (around when I was traded to Chicago at the deadline), we were on pins and needles. Every single pitch from that time forward was a World Series pitch. We even played a five-game series against the Cardinals in September that was the most intense series I had ever imagined. It seemed like we should have had a ticker-tape parade after winning four of five, only to find out we still had a month of the regular season left to go. It was difficult to take time for perspective or history when we were obsessing about a check-swing call or watch whether our manager, Dusty Baker, might come to blows with Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa.
To sum up the 2003 NLCS, it was easy to look at Steve Bartman and see the answer to the momentum question. We were winning handily, then in a Chicago minute we were staring at the Marlins dogpile after Game 7. It all came down to this creepy foul ball to explain the shift in power. It was a clear mark in the timeline that made us go from close to far. But that was not the whole story by a long shot.
I always tell people to pay attention to what happened in Game 5.
Josh Beckett had the same swagger he had today, except he had the young arm to go with it. The Marlins had an exciting staff that matched us in the young gunslinger department. We had Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The Marlins had Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, who was the NL Rookie of the Year that season.
In Game 5, we were coming in knowing we were one game away from taking it all. So much so that some discussions were about how much better it would be to win at home. I had my hand in helping us win Game 3 in extra innings. In Game 4, we jumped on the Marlins with four runs in the top of the first. Aramis Ramirez finished the game with six RBIs, and Matt Clement and current Rays setup man Kyle Farnsworth kept the Marlins' offense at bay. We were seemingly just one step ahead of them.
I have this theory that an ace is a pitcher who negates home-field advantage and ignores momentum. An ace makes his own momentum. Going into Game 5, we had all of it. We had won three games in a row after a 9-8 loss at home in Game 1. Our offense was firing, our bench was rolling, our starters were starting off well, our relievers were coming together.
Beckett went on to pitch a two-hit shutout, striking out 11 and walking one. It was as if we were the team down 3-1 with panic in our eyes. It was as if all the pressure was on us as the home team trying to prevent a team from winning on their home turf. Beckett made it look like the Marlins were the team in control.
After that game, the result was mostly ignored. It was, "Oh well, nice job by Beckett, we still have Prior and Wood, at home … so what?"
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