And then Baker speaks what passes for the Nicene Creed of the Cubs' and the Red Sox' congregations: "Maybe it was just not meant to be."
All hell broke loose. Not only did Prior walk Castillo with the next pitch, but the ball got by catcher Paul Bako, allowing Pierre to advance to third.
Rothschild visited Prior. Stadium security officers visited Bartman. Both meetings concerned plots for emergency escapes. Only one succeeded.
Now fatigue owned Prior. He tried a breaking ball with his next pitch, to Ivan Rodriguez, but it had none of the snap or tight spin of those from the early innings. The pitch rolled more than it broke, and Rodriguez hammered it, but foul. Prior muscled a fastball past the Marlins catcher on his next pitch. Then he returned to the breaking ball at 0 and 2. Again, he did not have the arm strength to finish off the pitch with the proper snap. It hung over the plate, and this time Rodriguez drilled it fair for a run-scoring single.
"That's what sticks with me," Prior says. "The pitch to Rodriguez. I felt that I hung it. That pitch has got to be down in the dirt. If I get that pitch down maybe he grounds out. I think that's the one pitch that bothers me. Late in the game it's not your velocity that goes. It's your location."
Miguel Cabrera pounded the next pitch into the hardpan in front of home plate. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez moved to his backhand while thinking about starting a double play. The baseball bounced again on the infield dirt, only this time, propelled by topspin, it seemed to accelerate, and it was quicker than Gonzalez's hands. The ball clunked off the heel of his glove.
"The ball just ate me up," Gonzalez says. "I don't think I hurried it as much as it was the ball got on me so fast."
Even though Prior had induced a playable foul pop-up and an infield grounder, the Cubs still needed five outs. Now the score was 3-1, the bases were filled with Marlins and the air was filled with dread. Florida first baseman Derrek Lee, 3 for 25 in the series, was the hitter. The Cubs' scouting report said to pound Lee on the hands with fastballs, and the pitchers had done so successfully almost without exception. Lee's bat had not been quick enough against Chicago's steady diet of power.
Lee told himself to look for something hard inside. Prior wasn't about to deviate from the report at a time like this. Bako called for an inside fastball, and Prior unleashed a 95mph screamer. Again, however, Prior missed slightly with his location. It was a decent pitch, just not far enough inside, especially to a hitter looking in that area. Lee smoked a line drive into leftfield, good for a game-tying, two-run double. Baker was out of the dugout to pull Prior even before the baseball was returned to the pitcher.
The bullpen could not stem this mud slide of a rally. An intentional walk, a sacrifice fly to break the tie, another intentional walk, a three-run double, a run-scoring single ... and it was 8-3 before you could say 1908. The next night, in Game 7, the Marlins would rake Kerry Wood for seven runs ("I choked," Wood would say) in a pennant-clinching 9-6 win, a score that seemed to mock the Cubs' congregation. Year 96 of the wait had officially begun.