Mark prior threw a 94-mph fastball with his 99th pitch, and Marlins pinch hitter Mike Mordecai lifted it into leftfield, where it settled into Moises Alou's glove. Five outs to go.
Cubs president and CEO Andy MacPhail, sitting in a mezzanine box, began rehearsing in his head what he would say to the national television audience upon being presented with the NL championship trophy. He reminded himself that he would need to find his tie in order to look proper for such a moment.
Prior, the Cubs' ace righthander, had retired eight straight hitters while working on a three-hit shutout. Chicago led 3-0.
Waveland Avenue felt like Times Square on New Year's Eve, though a crowd waiting for a ball to drop would prove to be a cruelly prophetic image. About 3,000 people packed shoulder to shoulder in the autumnal chill on the famous street that runs parallel to the leftfield wall at Wrigley Field, the little jewelry box of a ballpark that was itself quaking with excitement. The Cubs were going to the World Series, something no one under the age of 58 had ever witnessed, including Hillary Clinton, who once said, "Being a Cubs fan prepares you for life--and Washington."
Chicago police had decided before the game that the Wrigleyville streets would be given over to 90 minutes of pure celebration immediately after the game, as long as there were--hey, hey--no open containers. The crowd was ready. Everyone thought Prior looked great. Everyone thought Prior looked strong.
Everyone, that is, except Prior.
"Most times when I pitch," he says, "I feel like in the second, third, fourth innings I'm just getting warmed up. If things go according to plan, I get a little boost after that in the middle innings, and I feel stronger at the end of the game.
"This time I didn't feel that. I felt like I had the same energy level the whole time. I never got that second wind."
Prior, then 23, was drafted by the Cubs out of USC in 2001 and won 18 games for Chicago last season. This night, however, would be his official Cubs baptism.
The Cubs are a Franciscan franchise. For core virtues they embrace humility (they welcome opponents to "the friendly confines" of Wrigley), poverty (as it relates to winning) and love of nature (especially sunshine, grass, ivy and choice hops and barley). The Cubs may not have invented the concept of lovable losers, but they certainly have perfected it.