“The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!” That was the cry in June, 2003 around Wrigley Field when the New York Yankees made their first regular season visit to the Friendly Confines.
Half of the Big Apple seemed to descend on Chicago for the weekend series and they were treated to a 5-3 Yankees win in the Friday opener. That was just the opening act leading into Saturday’s marquee matchup of Texas titans – Cubs gunslinger Kerry Wood against Roger Clemens with the Rocket going for his 300th win.
The game actually turned in the top of the 4th inning when Jason Giambi hit a high pop-up on the infield. Wood and Cubs first baseman Hee-Sop Choi collided going for the ball and Choi hit his head on the ensuing fall. An ambulance had to be brought in from the right field gate to take Choi to the hospital with a concussion and he was replaced by Eric Karros. The former Dodger had come to the Cubs in an off-season trade along with Mark Grudzielanek and was still finding his way in Chicago. That was about to change.
The much-hyped Wood/Clemens duel didn’t disappoint. Both pitchers gave up only 3 hits and as the Cubs came up in the 7th, they trailed 1-0 with the only run coming on a Hideki Matsui homer off Wood. After Corey Patterson struck out to open the inning, Sammy Sosa singled to left and Moises Alou worked Clemens for a walk. The Rocket had thrown only 84 pitches, but manager Joe Torre opted for the bullpen and brought in Juan Acevedo to face Karros.
Karros was ready for the moment. He drilled Acevedo’s first pitch into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer, ending Clemens’ bid for #300 and instantly making himself a Cubs legend. The Cubs would go on to win the game 5-3, earning their first-ever win over the Bronx Bombers. (They had been swept in the 1932 and 1938 World Series).
“I remember after the game going to Joe’s Stone Crab for dinner,” said Karros. “I didn’t have to buy a drink, dinner, anything. From that moment on, I really felt like a Cub.” With Choi sidelined by a concussion, Karros made the most of his opportunity, hitting .286 with 12 home runs as the Cubs got within one game of the World Series.
“When the trade happened, I really didn’t want to be here,” Karros remembered. “I got a nice place near the ballpark to sort of spoil myself, but I ended up walking to work every day. I felt what it must have been like to be a Dodger in Brooklyn in the 50’s. I got to know a ton of people. That turned out to be such a great year.”