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The Cubs might've been in the 2003 World Series if not for Miguel Cabrera and Pudge Rodriguez

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Let’s play alternative reality with the 2003 NLCS for a moment.

Marlins v Yankees Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 2003 National League Championship Series well might have ended in a World Series appearance for the Chicago Cubs had it not been for Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera.

Yeah, yeah, and if this pitcher or that reliever hadn’t lost it, or Steve Bartman didn’t exist, or the respective team managers had managed games differently, we’d all be sippin’ high tea chuckling about how the Cubs are gonna win another World Series in less than 15 years’ time.

But we’re not here for that, so pipe down for a second and let me dig up some not too old information. I was curious, and I couldn’t remember Cabrera’s total contribution in the postseason that year, so I checked and ... well, here you go. It was interesting.

See, the Marlins had this rookie on their team. He’d done alright in the National League Division Series, but nothing spectacular. In the NLCS, though, Cabrera lit up the batter’s box. But let’s not discount what Rodriguez did, either.

Dude had five RBI in Game 1 alone. Three of those came on one dinger. Cabrera followed with his first-ever postseason home run. Both did some great things, but what happened in Game 1 and 7 stand out more than any other. But we’ll lay out all seven just for [redacted] and giggles.

Game 1

This was Rodriguez’s biggest game of the series. He accounted for over half of the Marlins’ runs but this would also be his biggest game by way of production. He and Cabrera flipped roles in Game 7, as you’ll see, but in this one, Cabrera walloped his first postseason homer two batters after Pudge.

Cabrera later singled in the sixth and scored on Jeff Conine’s sacrifice fly for a 6-4 lead at the time. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find video of Rodriguez’s homer, so Cabrera’s will have to do.

Final score: Marlins 9, Cubs 8 (11)
Rodriguez: 2-for-5, 3-run HR (third inning), game-tying, two-run single (in ninth) for extra innings
Cabrera: 2-for-6, game-tying HR (in third)
Combined runs: Seven, including Cabrera’s scored run in the sixth

Game 2

This one wasn’t pretty for the Marlins, and Rodriguez didn’t do as well as in Game 1. The Cubs bludgeoned Florida pitching, and the offense was 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They left eight men on-base. There is no video worth showing, and even if there was, I wouldn’t show you anyway.

Final score: Cubs 12, Marlins 3
Rodriguez: 1-for-3
Cabrera: 2-for-4, solo HR (in sixth)
Combined runs: One

Game 3

So, Pudge walks in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 4-4 and one out thanks to a bunt groundout by Luis Castillo (don’t get me started). Juan Pierre was on second, until he stole third with Cabrera at the plate. Miggy walks with two out, loading the bases.

Instead, the Marlins stranded the bases loaded and went on to lose in extras. Keep in mind, the Marlins ultimately won the series and the loss didn’t matter. But if they’d won this game ... oh if they’d won. Anyway ...

Final score: Cubs 5, Marlins 4 (11)
Rodriguez: 1-for-5, go-ahead RBI single (in seventh), intentional walk (in ninth)
Cabrera: 2-for-4 (both singles), walk (in ninth, to load the bases; stranded)
Combined runs: One

Game 4

Woof.

That video has nothing to do with either Cabrera or Pudge, but I had to drop it in for sheer awfulness on the Marlins’ part. Picking this series apart, Florida had some pretty crappy games. This one wasn’t as bad as Game 2, but still. After Game 4, the Marlins were down 3-1 and you can see why that #FalseHope giddy feeling was welling up in Cubs’ hearts. Baseball is cruel.

Final score: Cubs 8, Marlins 3
Rodriguez: 2-for-4, RBI double (in eighth)
Cabrera: 1-for-4
Combined runs: One

Game 5

It was Dinger Central at Pro Player Stadium for Game 5. Every Marlin run came by way of the long ball, with the second a two-run shot that scored Cabrera. I’d go back and tell you how hard Rodriguez hit his home run, but that information doesn’t exist, so deal with it. Also, Major League Baseball’s video archives were seriously lacking 13 years ago.

Final score: Marlins 4, Cubs 0
Rodriguez: 1-for-3, HR, walk
Cabrera: 1-for-2, walk (scored on Mike Lowell’s home run), HBP
Combined runs: Two

Game 6

Also known as The Steve Bartman Game, which is entirely inaccurate. Grant Brisbee dug into that game enough for the both of us. Take it up with him. Or vent here, too. That’s fine. Rodriguez may not have scored the winning run, but he got the party started.

The offense had been quiet all night until that point. Supposed baseball voodoo aside, the Marlins simply got to Chicago pitching. Rodriguez’s RBI single opened the floodgates, and Cabrera’s reach — on what should’ve been out No. 2, or three if you count the non-catch — prolonged the Cubs’ agony. Tide. Turned.

Final score: Marlins 8, Cubs 3
Rodriguez: 1-for-4, walk
Cabrera: 1-for-5, reached on E6 to load the bases in the eighth
Combined runs: Two

Game 7

We won’t pick apart the possible additional runs later in the game, or what could’ve happened in extras. However, Cabrera’s three-run shot to start the game in the first inning was the difference between being tied 6-6, and being ahead. With one swing.

Final score: Marlins 9, Cubs 6
Rodriguez: 1-for-4, walk, RBI double (in fifth)
Cabrera: 1-for-5, three-run HR (in first), RBI groundout (in fifth)
Combined runs: Five

* * *

Final NLCS stats

Rodriguez: .321/.424/.607, two HR, 10 RBI, two doubles, five walks, five runs scored
Cabrera: .333/.394/.633, three HR, six RBI, two walks, nine runs scored

Games 2-5 were inconsequential by means of Cabrera’s and Rodriguez’s contributions. Game 6 was somewhat less so, though, Rodriguez’s single jump-started the whole shebang. But Games 1 and 7, those were the truly deciding factors in how both players affected the outcome of the series. The two drove in and scored 12 of the 18 runs for the Marlins in those two games alone.

Looking back on that series, though, a 20-year-old dinger-smashing Cabrera was quite something to see alongside a veteran powerhouse hitter in Rodriguez. There’s also the possible The Cubs might’ve been in the 2003 World Series if not for Cabrera and Pudge aspect, and that may never get old.

Oh, and Pudge won the MVP for that series. I’ll leave you to argue about that one, but I’d hazard a guess RBI played a role because traditional stats and whatnot.