Prior had averaged 113 pitches per start during the regular season, the most in baseball. Baker pushed him beyond that in the postseason. Prior had thrown 133 and 116 pitches in his two previous starts, the most recent one a 12--3 win in Game 2 in which Baker sent him back out for the eighth inning with his team leading by 10 runs. Baker explained that nothing can be taken for granted in a playoff game. Now Prior's odometer had hit 234 2/3 innings for the year--a leap of 167 2/3 from his combined minor and major league total as a rookie.
"My bullpen was tired," Baker says. "[Mike] Remlinger's arm was barking like a dog. [Antonio] Alfonseca wasn't throwing the way he's capable. [Mark] Guthrie wasn't throwing like he usually does. [Dave] Veres wasn't ready. And then there wasn't a spot to take Prior out. It happened real quick."
Prior could no longer finish hitters. He would throw 24 pitches in the inning and get the Marlins to swing and miss only once. He would get two strikes on three batters and retire none of them.
"That's where the second wind comes in," Prior says. "I didn't have it."
Castillo fouled another pitch. And now it was time. The Cubs, the fans and Fox had enjoyed scads of dreamy fun--the Charlie Brown appeal of the Cubs and the Sox had prompted the other networks to scrap original programming and offer up reruns for the ratings slaughter--but now it was time to start restoring order to the baseball universe. It was time for humility and poverty. It was time for the Cubs to be Cubs.
In a span of 12 pitches (not including intentional balls), the Marlins scored eight runs, the Cubs used three pitchers, Waveland Avenue fell as silent as a tomb and Steve Bartman, the Sibley Cubs fan, unintentionally created such infamy for himself that he would have to go into hiding.
The beginning of the end was a foul pop-up by Castillo. Alou drifted across the leftfield line to the padded side wall and jumped to make a backhand catch, his glove just above the green railing atop the wall. He had no doubt that he was about to catch the ball. Three fans seated in the first row, their eyes fixed not on Alou but on the falling baseball, also reached for the pop-up. It was Bartman who touched it. The ball clanked off his left hand. Alou came away with nothing but anger.
By sunrise Bartman's life would become a nightmare. News helicopters hovered over his suburban home; his phone had to be disconnected; he could not go to the consulting firm where he worked; the domain names stevebartman.com, .net and .org all had been claimed; writers for Letterman and Leno were scribbling Bartman jokes as fast as they could; people were planning their Bartman Halloween costumes; and actor Kevin James was preparing a pitch for a movie titled Fan Interference. A Chicago alderman, Tom Allen, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "He better get a new address. He ought to move to Alaska." Florida governor Jeb Bush offered Bartman asylum.
In a statement read by his brother-in-law, Bartman apologized the next day "from the bottom of this Cubs fan's broken heart." He never made a public appearance thereafter. He spoke with MacPhail and briefly maintained private correspondence with baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
"That's not what lost it for us," Baker says. "We had our chances."