Groundhog Day: What do Cubs wish they could do over?

Erasing Gonzalez's error, not Bartman moment, could alter history in 2003

Groundhog Day: What do Cubs wish they could do over?

CHICAGO -- Friends have asked to see Todd Hollandsworth's World Series ring, but as soon as they do, things get a little heated. Hollandsworth won his ring in 2003, a year Cubs fans would rather forget.

Mention Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and Cubs fans begin to mutter. Chicago had a 3-2 lead in the NLCS against the Marlins, and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning. Mark Prior was on the mound, and the Cubs needed six outs to get to the World Series for the first time since 1945. There were 39,577 at Wrigley Field on that 57-degree night on Oct. 14, and several thousand more on Waveland and Sheffield avenues rimming the ballpark.

What if the Cubs could have a Groundhog Day moment? What if they had retired the Marlins in order in the eighth?

"It was such a tight series -- who knows? If they catch that ball right there, I can, in all honesty, say maybe the Cubs win the World Series," Hollandsworth said. "Maybe they win that [NLCS] and maybe they win the World Series."

But he doesn't blame the most famous foul ball in Cubs history. Quick flashback: The Marlins had a runner at second and one out in the eighth. Luis Castillo hit a pop up that drifted toward the left-field line. Moises Alou gave chase but fans reached over and the ball was deflected. Upset at what he felt was interference, Alou slammed his glove on the field in disgust.

"[Alou] was navigating the most difficult wall of all corner walls in baseball," Hollandsworth said. "Even when you go over to find that wall, you're really not sure. In your mind, you're giving your best to time the wall, make the play, make a leap, give it a chance. But you still don't strategically know how high to get off the ground."

Bartman interferes with Alou

It didn't matter. Prior ended up walking Castillo, and Juan Pierre, who was on second, advanced on a wild pitch. Ivan Rodriguez followed with a RBI single. And then Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who tried to make a backhand grab but the ball hit the heel of his glove. E-6. Everyone was safe.

That's the moment the Cubs need to do over.

"When Alex booted that ball, we felt like destiny was on our side," Hollandsworth said. "It wasn't spoken, but it was like, 'Things are going our way, guys, let's capitalize on it.' That's the momentum you feel in the dugout.

"If [Gonzalez] would've gotten one out, it would've been a different series. Even if he could've knocked it down and thrown to second base and gotten an out there, it probably would've been completely different."

Instead, the Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth, and won the game, the series and the World Series. Don't blame any fans, Hollandsworth said, particularly Steve Bartman, who was sitting in left and had to be ushered out of Wrigley Field by security after the crowd became unruly.

"If you ask any of us who were in the [Marlins'] dugout, they'll tell you to a man that the Bartman play wasn't what it was about," Hollandsworth said. "When that double-play ball went awry, that was the game changer."

If the Cubs turn a double play, the inning is over, and momentum is back on their side. There would've been a celebration in Wrigleyville like no other. Instead, there was a deciding, and deflating Game 7.

The next year, Hollandsworth and Marlins teammate Derrek Lee found themselves with the Cubs. In an awkward moment, a Marlins representative presented the pair with their 2003 World Series rings in the Cubs' clubhouse prior to the home opener at Wrigley.

"It's like, 'Can't you find a dark room? Find a tunnel at Wrigley, and we can shake hands, give hugs and reminisce for a couple seconds before we go out there for Opening Day?" Hollandsworth said. "But they came right through the clubhouse."

Hollandsworth has a morning show on MLB Network Radio, and is an analyst for Comcast SportsNet, doing the Cubs' pre- and post-game television shows. He doesn't wear his World Series ring often but will show it when asked. And then the conversation becomes uncomfortable.

"It felt like the Cubs were the team of destiny, not us," Hollandsworth said. "We didn't have the army behind us that the Cubs have but things started going our way and we just got it done a little more."

And the Cubs haven't won a playoff game since.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.