For many baseball fans, the 2003 baseball season was an exercise in what might have been. Hopes for a World Series of the historically misbegotten were dashed when the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs lost their 2003 World Series bids in heartbreaking fashion.
The surprising Cubs captured the National League Central behind new manager Dusty Baker and a strong starting rotation. Chicago blew by the Atlanta Braves in their NLDS, then went up three games to two in the NLCS on the Florida Marlins (who had previously eliminated the Giants). But down 3-0 in the eighth of game six at Wrigley Field, the Marlins exploded for eight runs and an 8-3 victory. Carrying the momentum into game seven, Florida clinched the National League pennant with a 9-6 win.
The Marlins had snagged the wildcard with a combination of youth and experience. Manager Jack McKeon, age 72, took over a 16-22 squad in May and led it to the game's best record over the last four months. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez was a key contributor, and Ugueth Urbina, acquired in a trade, bolstered the bullpen. But kids provided the Marlins' magic. Their starting rotation was among the youngest in the game, with lefty Dontrelle Willis the National League Rookie of the Year. Speedsters Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo set the table for sluggers Derrek Lee and Mike Lowell.
The American League picture wasn't quite as surprising. The Yankees and Red Sox finished first and second in the East, then won their Division Series to set up a "dream" ALCS. Down 3-2 in games, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in game six at Yankee Stadium, then led 5-2 in the last of the eighth in game seven. But the Yankees came back and tied the score against Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, who in retrospect stayed in the game too long (a decision that cost Boston manager Grady Little his job). The nailbiter ended in the last of the 11th when Aaron Boone's homer sent the Yankees to a 6-5 win and another trip to the World Series.
The vaunted Yankees and their legacy, however, held no sway over the young Marlins, who confidently split the first four games of the fall classic. Game five was the turning point. Yankees starter David Wells left after one inning with back spasms. Florida jumped on the Yankees bullpen, then held on for a 6-4 win. Game six, back at Yankee Stadium, was all Josh Beckett. The oft-injured young Marlins hurler shut out the Bronx Bombers on five hits to give his team its second world title, despite being outscored in the series 21-17.
While salaries continued to rise, and the Red Sox and Yankees dominated the headlines, the good news for fans of "small market" teams was that for the third straight year, an unexpected club won it all. Each world champ prevailed through team-work and a varied attack rather than relying on one or two big-salaried stars. And the TV ratings for the exciting postseason bore out the value of unexpected participants.
While Barry Bonds of the National League West-champion Giants won his sixth National League MVP Award, most award winners finished far out of the playoff picture. American League MVP Alex Rodriguez's Texas Rangers placed last. American League Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa played for Kansas City, which contended early but slumped, and Cy Young winner Roy Halladay toiled for third-place Toronto. Eric Gagne, who saved 55 straight for the Dodgers, won the National League Cy Young, though his club finished 15 games out. Also out of contention were the Montreal Expos, who played 22 of their "home" games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as MLB continued to consider relocating the club.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 2003 baseball season.
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2003 Baseball Season Headlines
In 2003, Rafael Palmeiro made his 500th home run, and Barry Bonds earned his sixth National League MVP. Here are some of the headlines from the 2003 baseball season:
Tim Hudson, A's Pitch Way to West Title
Once again, Oakland's formidable starting pitching led the A's to the playoffs in 2003. The Big Three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder helped Oakland lead the league with a 3.63 ERA and clinch the American League West by three games over Seattle. Hudson finished 16-7 while ranking second among American League hurlers with a 2.70 ERA.
2003 Tigers Lose American League-Record 119 Games
The Tigers set an American League record for losses (43-119) and had to win five of their last six to avoid tying the 1962 Mets' major league record. Starters Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Cornejo, and Adam Bernero were 9-21, 6-19, 6-17, and 1-12, respectively, and the "attack" scored 108 fewer runs than any other American League club. The Tigers also led the league in errors.
Rafael Palmeiro Joins 500-Homer Club
Texas' Rafael Palmeiro had long been one of the game's most consistent and underrated hitters. Palmeiro clouted at least 38 homers every season from 1995 through 2003, making him the first slugger in major league history to achieve the feat nine straight years.
Roger Clemens: 300 Ws, 4,000 Ks
Yankee Roger Clemens had been chasing 300 wins and 4,000 strikeouts for years, and on June 13, 2003, he achieved both feats in the same game against St. Louis. He ended the season in possession of the American League's all-time strikeout record. Late in the year, Clemens announced plans to retire, but he recanted and later signed with Houston for 2004.
2003 Cubs Pitching a Prior-ity
In his first full major league season, Cubs starter Mark Prior proved to be one of the game's dominant pitchers. Heading a strong rotation that also included Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement, Prior ranked among the National League's top three in wins (18-6), ERA (2.43), and strikeouts (245). The Cubs' strong hurling led to a surprising National League Central title and an upset of the Braves in the NLDS.
Rookie Dontrelle Willis Sparks Fish
Lefty Dontrelle Willis made just six Starts in Double-A before joining the Marlins in May 2003. He proceeded to go 9-1 by July 13 and 14-6 overall, earning the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The Marlins, under 72-year-old skipper Jack McKeon, won a surprise wildcard spot en route to their 2003 World Series upset of the Yankees.
Barry Bonds Stars in Bittersweet Season
Barry Bonds couldn't fully enjoy his record sixth National League MVP season in 2003. In addition to smashing .341 with 45 homers, he recorded his 500th career stolen base on June 23, making him the first ever to steal 500 sacks and hit 500 homers. Moreover, the Giants won 100 games and ran away with the National League West. Unfortunately, Bonds's joy was tempered by the loss of his father, former Giants standout Bobby Bonds, who died of cancer on August 23.
Jorge Posada Lifts Yanks to 101 Wins
In another year, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada could have been voted American League MVP. A fine defensive catcher, Posada in 2003 rapped .281 with 30 homers and a .405 on-base percentage, fifth best in the circuit. Despite lacking a dominant pitcher or hitter, and finishing third in the American League in runs and third in ERA, the Yankees won 101 games, tops in the American League.
Carlos Delgado Slugs Way to RBI Crown
Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado led the American League with 145 RBI in 2003, besting second-place Alex Rodriguez by a margin of 27 -- one of the largest gaps in history. Delgado also finished second in the American League in home runs (42), on-base percentage (.426), and slugging percentage (.593). On September 25, he smashed four homers in one game against the Devil Rays.
Check out more headlines from the 2003 baseball season on the next page.
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More 2003 Baseball Season Headlines
Below are more headlines from the 2003 baseball season, including the Braves' 101 wins and the Cubs' continued failure to make it to the World Series.
2003 Red Sox No. 1 in Runs
In 2003, the Red Sox led the major leagues in runs with 961. David Ortiz belted 31 homers, while Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, and batting champion Bill Mueller also bashed the cowhide. The pitching was thin, but Pedro Martinez led the league with a 2.22 ERA and finished second (by just one) in strikeouts despite making just 29 Starts. Boston earned a wildcard berth with 95 victories.
Alex Rodriguez Named American League MVP
Though his Rangers finished last in the American League West in 2003, Alex Rodriguez earned the American League MVP Award. A-Rod won his third straight home run title (47) and paced the league in runs (124) and slugging percentage (.600). He also captured his second Gold Glove, and on April 2 he became, at 27, the youngest player ever to reach 300 homers. A-Rod finished 2003 with 344 homers as a shortstop, trailing all-time record-holder Cal Ripken by just one.
Roy Halladay Cops American League's Cy
Toronto's Roy Halladay did not win a single game in April 2003, but he finished 22-7 thanks to 15 straight victories -- a performance that earned him the Cy Young Award. Halladay allowed the most hits in the league (253), but he walked only 32 men in 266 innings. His 3.25 ERA ranked fifth in the American League.
Albert Pujols Wears Bat Crown
Third-year man Albert Pujols of the Cardinals continued to scale new heights in 2003. Besides winning the batting title at .359, he clubbed 43 homers and led the National League in runs (137), hits (212), total bases (394), and doubles (51). Pujols, runner-up in MVP voting to Barry Bonds, shared with Ralph Kiner the major league record for most homers (114) by a player in his first three seasons.
Eric Gagne Saves 55 in 55
Dodgers closer Eric Gagne was an easy National League Cy Young winner. Gagne didn't blow a single save chance during the season, and through the end of the campaign had converted a major league-record 63 consecutive save opportunities. Fanning 137 men in just 82 innings in 2003, Gagne successfully completed his transformation from struggling starter to the game's most overpowering late-inning reliever.
2003 Braves Slug Way to 101 Victories
The Braves in 2003 won 101 games, the most in the National League, but did so -- surprisingly -- with great hitting rather than their usual pitching skill. Outfielder Gary Sheffield was the club's offensive star, rapping .330 with 39 homers and 132 RBI, but the attack was balanced. Catcher Javy Lopez, second baseman Marcus Giles, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and out-fielders Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones all helped make Atlanta's offense the league's most productive.
Cubs Curse Continues
Cubs fan Steve Bartman picked a bad time to test his fielding skills. Chicago left fielder Moises Alou claimed Bartman interfered with the ball in the eighth inning of game six of the 2003 NLCS. The flood-gates immediately opened, as the Marlins plated eight runs to win 8-3. They then beat Kerry Wood in game seven, 9-6, extending the Cubs' World Series drought to 58 years.
Aaron Boone's HR Dooms the Red Sox
New York third baseman Aaron Boone's 11th-inning walk-off homer extended the "Curse of the Bambino," as the Red Sox -- who appeared to have the game in hand in the eighth inning -- once again failed to bring home the bacon. The thrilling Yankees-Red Sox playoff featured three one-run games and several thrilling comebacks.
The next page highlights key events and details from the 2003 baseball season.
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2003 Baseball Season Highlights
The 2003 baseball season was a year of dashed hopes for teams that had been left out of the World Series for decades. While it looked like the Red Sox and the Cubs had a shot, the all-too-familiar Yankees and surprising Marlins were the feature at the 2003 World Series. Below, you will find the highlights from the 2003 baseball season:
- Wildcard winner Boston defeats Oakland in a nail-biting five game ALDS.
- New York beats Minnesota easily in a four-game ALDS. The Twins score just three times in the final three games.
- Florida upsets San Francisco to win their NLDS in four games.
- The Cubs upend the favored Braves in a five-game NLDS.
- The Marlins, down three games to one, come back to defeat the Cubs in the NLCS.
- The Yankees win a thrilling seven-game ALCS over the luckless Red Sox, as Aaron Boone ends it with an 11th-inning homer.
- The Marlins capture their second World Series title in their 11-year history, defeating the Yankees in six games.
- The Marlins take the title despite hitting just .232 and being outscored 21-17 by New York.
- Philadelphia's Kevin Millwood throws the year's only individual no-hitter, on April 27 against San Francisco.
- Brad Penny wins two games for Florida in the fall classic, and Josh Beckett throws a five-hit shutout in the clincher.
- Jack McKeon, who takes over the Marlins' helm in May, is at age 72 the oldest manager ever to win a World Series.
- Barry Bonds of the Giants is named National League MVP for the sixth time -- and the third year in a row.
- Bonds leads the National League in both SA (.749) and OBP (.529) for the third consecutive season. He logs 148 walks (61 intentional) in 130 games.
- Bonds's father, Bobby Bonds, a former Giants star, dies of cancer on August 23.
- Cubs righty Kerry Wood leads the National League with 266 strikeouts.
- Wood's 21 hit batsmen are the most by a major league pitcher since 1969.
- Atlanta's Russ Ortiz (21-7) is the National League's only 20-game winner.
- San Francisco's Jason Schmidt leads the National League in ERA (2.34) and win pct. (.773).
- Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers becomes the first American League player to win the MVP Award while playing for a last-place club.
- A-Rod tops the American League in homers (47), runs (124), and slugging (.600).
- Dodgers closer Eric Gagne saves 55 games in 55 chances and takes National League Cy Young honors.
- Gagne blows the save in the All-Star Game, allowing Ranger Hank Blalock's game-winning homer.
- Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays wins 15 consecutive decisions en route to a 22-7 record and the American League Cy Young Award.
- Albert Pujols of St. Louis wins the 2003 National League batting title, edging Colorado's Todd Helton by one point, .359 to .358.
- Pujols also leads the National League in hits (212), runs (137), doubles (51), and TBs (394). He amasses 43 homers and 124 RBI.
- Preston Wilson of the Rockies paces the National League with 141 RBI.
- Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell cracks his 400th homer on July 20.
- Jim Thome of the Phillies clubs a National League-high 47 homers but fans a league-high 182 times.
- Switch-hitting Bill Mueller of the Red Sox cops the 2003 American League bat crown at .326.
- Mueller clouts grand slams from both sides of the plate at Texas on July 29, becoming the first major league player ever to do so.
- Boston's Pedro Martinez leads the American League in ERA (2.22).
- Oakland's Keith Foulke paces American League relievers with 43 saves.
- Toronto's Vernon Wells leads the American League in hits (215), doubles (49), and total bases (373).
For more 2003 baseball season highlights, see the next page.
To learn more about baseball, see:
More 2003 Baseball Season Highlights
Below are more highlights of the 2003 baseball season, including Roger Clemens of the Yankees winning his 300th game and Juan Pierre leading the National League in steals.
- Yankee Jason Giambi gives fielders a breather by clubbing 41 homers and topping the American League in walks (129), HBPs (21), and strikeouts (140).
- Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis wins 2003 National League Rookie of the Year honors.
- Royals infielder Angel Berroa is named 2003 American League Rookie of the Year.
- Yankees hurler Roger Clemens wins his 300th game and records his 4,000th strikeout in the same game, on June 13 versus St. Louis.
- Clemens ends the season with 4,099 career strikeouts, an American League record.
- Detroit loses 119 games to set an American League record.
- Mike Maroth of the Tigers becomes the first major league pitcher to lose 20 games (9-21) since Oakland's Brian Kingman in 1980.
- In May, The Walt Disney Company sells the Anaheim Angels to West Coast businessman Arturo Moreno for approximately $182 million.
- Boston scores ten runs in the first inning on June 27 before Florida can record an out. The Sox win 25-8.
- Sammy Sosa of the Cubs clubs his 500th homer on April 4.
- Sosa is suspended for seven games after being caught using a corked bat on June 3.
- Rafael Palmeiro of Texas slugs his 500th homer on May 11.
- Greg Maddux of the Braves sets a major league record by winning 15 or more games for the 16th consecutive season.
- Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal turns an unassisted triple play on August 10.
- On September 25, Toronto's Carlos Delgado homers in four consecutive at-bats in one game, victimizing the Devil Rays.
- Major League Baseball forces the Montreal Expos to play 22 "home" games in 2003 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- Jesse Orosco, age 46, pitches in 65 games but just 34 innings.
- Orosco extends his major league record for games pitched to 1,252.
- Seattle uses just five starting pitchers all year.
- On July 25, Colorado's Chin-Hui Tsao becomes the first Taiwanese pitcher in major league history.
- Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford paces the American League in stolen bases (55), but his on-base percentage is just .309.
- The Marlins' Juan Pierre leads the National League in steals (65), and his club's 150 swipes are the most in the game.
- Cubs pitchers set a major league record with 1,404 strikeouts.
- The Braves lead the National League with 907 runs scored.
- Boston paces the American League with 961 runs.
- Four Mariners win Gold Gloves: John Olerud, Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, and Ichiro Suzuki.
- The Cardinals also field four Gold Glovers: Edgar Renteria, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Mike Matheny.
- Todd Zeile of the Expos becomes, on September 5, the first player ever to homer for 11 different major league clubs.
- Brad Wilkerson of the Expos hits for the cycle -- in order -- on June 24.
- Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium close down after the conclusion of the regular season.
- Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler dies after a spring training workout on February 17. His death is linked to the performance-enhancing Supplement ephedra.
- Cincinnati first baseman Dernell Stenson is murdered in Phoenix on November 5.
- The U.S. national baseball team fails to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
- The BBWAA votes Gary Carter and Eddie Murray into the Hall of Fame.
- A newly configured Hall of Fame Veterans Committee fails to elect a single player.
- Florida's Jack McKeon and Kansas City's Tony Pena are named Manager of the Year in their respective leagues.
- Boston fires manager Grady Little two days after the conclusion of the World Series.