Grady Little was trying to manage a crisis again last month. Now working as a senior advisor to the Pittsburgh Pirates front office and living near Charlotte, North Carolina, the former Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers manager and his wife opened their home to friends fleeing the coast as Hurricane Florence approached. After the storm passed, Little paused to consider the far less dire tempest in which he found himself embroiled 15 years ago, when decisions made—and not made—conspired to perpetuate two of the most storied curses in sports.

“At the time we were playing the seventh game of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium when I made this thing that’s gonna dictate my legacy forever: I left a pitcher in a game a little bit too long,” he says. “I think about it every once in a while, and every once in a while I’m reminded of it.

“People who remind me, I tell them: ‘At that moment in time, I was sitting in the dugout in Yankee Stadium. Where were you sitting?’ I’ve been asked about it by kids who weren’t even born yet. That’s the way it is.”

In fall 2003, America was caught in Curse overload as October’s postseason hayride barreled straight into the intersection where the Curse of the Bambino crossed the Curse of the Billy Goat.

No one’s reputation was spared. Four months after publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it was as if the wizards and witches were busy in October 2003. The Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a World Series since 1908, melted down. The Red Sox, who hadn’t won since 1918, blew up. Steve Bartman and Grady Little became household names even to men and women who didn’t know a baseball from a bocce ball.

The Red Sox and New York Yankees brawled. A chubby and cherubic man charged out of a dugout looking to gut Boston’s ace pitcher, which wouldn’t have been that far out of the ordinary except the man was 72 at the time and had metal “buttons” in his head.

The Cubs and Moises Alou howled. A ball that went up never came down because a fan did what so many others would have done in the moment: reached out to catch it. Then the Cubs stubbornly persisted in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory several more times over that game and the next.

Now? Well, time can be merciful, providing forgiveness to some and, at least, distance to others.

Then? It was a distillation of baseball in its purest form, a game that the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti famously wrote is “designed to break your heart.”

“It’s hard to believe that was 15 years ago and at the time it happened the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918,” says Steve Buckley, the longtime Boston Herald columnist and now a writer for The Athletic. “People of a certain age might not understand that. It seems all cute now. It’s amazing. There was no hint they were going to win three of the next [10] World Series.”

It wasn’t all so cute then. Moments after the Cubs clinched their National League Division Series to set up the drama of the next 10 days, Game 5 winner Kerry Wood was handed a phone in the middle of a celebratory clubhouse. On the line was beloved Hall of Famer Ron Santo, who went into the radio booth upon retirement and who would die seven years later, in 2010.

“Santo wasn’t able to make that trip because he was having health issues,” Wood says. “It was my first Game 5—here we are back in Atlanta, and it was all emotions and adrenaline. …

“So I walked down to an auxiliary clubhouse where it was quiet, and he was on the other end in tears, just crying. I spent 10 or 15 minutes immediately after the game on the phone with him, hearing the emotions come out. … I’ll never forget those 15 minutes.”

Hop into our bullpen cart for one more ride through the hay, with scenes from yesterday through the eyes of today.


A’s and B’s and division series

Kerry Wood suffered numbness in his pitching arm when he hit his funny bone while warming up for Game 5 of the National League Division Series. He recovered and pitched the Cubs to the NLCS with eight one-run innings.

Kerry Wood suffered numbness in his pitching arm when he hit his funny bone while warming up for Game 5 of the National League Division Series. He recovered and pitched the Cubs to the NLCS with eight one-run innings.Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Before the Yankees and Marlins came the Oakland Athletics and Braves in the division series to set up this multi-act drama for the Red Sox and Cubs.

Chicago’s Wood was masterful in firing eight one-run innings in the decisive 5-1 Game 5 win.

Boston also needed five games to get past the A’s after it dropping the first two in Oakland. Having made 33 starts in the regular season, Derek Lowe pitched heroically in the series, firing 1.2 innings in relief in Game 1, starting Game 3 (and throwing seven innings) and then working the ninth inning to collect the save in Game 5. But after pitching three times in six days in the division series…plus starting Games 2 and 5 in the American League Championship Series…Lowe wasn’t likely to be able to give much more, a reality that would come to help define the series against the Yankees.   

Boston: Saturday afternoon at the fights

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