Tonight marks the first Cubs vs. Cardinals matchup of 2021, which means it’s time for a new edition of Once Upon a Yesterday! It’s been a while since our last one, so a refresher may help. Every time the Cubs and Cards square off, I took a look back in time to try to find cool lil nuggets from years and decades past. The format changes throughout the season; sometimes I’ll dig into a particular game in history, other times I’ll do a rundown of all the games that took place on a particular date. Occasionally, like today, I’ll do something entirely different. We are traveling back to the last time the Cubs kicked off a three-game series against the Cards on May 21st, which occurred in 2004.
Setting the Scene
May 21st, 2004 also happened to fall on a Friday. The #1 movie at the box office was Shrek 2, although with Soul Plane scheduled to release the next week we all know that the #1 spot for Shrek can’t last. If you turned on the radio, there is a 100% chance you hear a song from Usher’s Confessions album. The 2004 prom circuit was basically just a mashup of Usher and Ying Yang Twins songs, with your occasional 50 Cent banger thrown in.
The Cubs entered the series 23-17, in second place in the NL Central behind the Houston Astros. The Cardinals entered the series with a 22-19 record in a congested division. The Cubs were hanging in well considering the star power already piled up on the injured list included the likes of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Remlinger, and Alex Gonzalez. Oh yeah, also Sammy Sosa, who had recently sneezed.
Game 1 – May 21st, 2004
Final Score: Cardinals 7 – Cubs 6
Starting Pitchers: Chris Carpenter (STL); Sergio Mitre (CHC)
This first game of the series marked a significant and unfortunate ‘first’ in the Cubs/Cards rivalry — the first time the Cubs faced Chris Carpenter. Carpenter had been released by Toronto, and no one at the time thought he’d transform into a Hall of Famer/Cub Killer.
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett took Carpenter deep in the first for an early lead that would vanish in the second. Sergio Mitre had a rough inning and gave up four runs.
Barrett tagged Carpenter for the second time in the third to cut the lead to 4-2 Cards, where it stayed until the fifth when Mitre found trouble again. Mitre gave up three runs in the fifth on back-to-back yams by Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds for a 7-2 score.
Todd Walker had a fifth inning shot by and a fifth inning bomb from Moises Alou made the score 7-6, but there were no more runs to be scored.
Game 2 – May 22nd, 2004
Final Score: Cardinals 1 – Cubs 7
Starting Pitchers: Woody Williams (STL); Glendon Rusch (CHC)
Glendon Rusch got off to a quick 1-2-3 start with two strikeouts, including one against Albert Pujols. That in itself is a victory. The Cubs brought the lumber (drumroll. gif) to Woody Williams in the home half of the inning scoring four runs, including a bases-loaded ground-rule double for Derrick Lee and a 4-0 lead.
The Cards got a run back in the top of the third on an Edgar Renteria double to make it 4-1, but Todd Hollandsworth restored that run and more in the home half. Hollandsworth hit a two-run tater scoring himself and Aramis Ramirez to make it a 6-1 ballgame.
Rusch continued to deal, pitching into the eighth inning where he was relieved by Kyle Farnsworth (yes!) to get the final out of the inning. Farnsworth gave way to LaTroy Hawkins (double yes!) who shut the door in the ninth with a clean inning.
Game 3 – May 23rd, 2004
Final Score: Cardinals 3 – Cubs 4
Starting Pitchers: Matt Morris (STL); Matt Clement (CHC)
In this rubber match, we had a battle of the Matt’s. In the facial hair department, it was no contest but on the diamond, the boys had a lil duel. Clement started the game with strikeouts of Tony Womack and Ray Lankford, but he followed it up with walks to Pujols and Jim Edmonds. A single from Scott Rolen plated Pujols, but Edmonds got caught trying to take third base. The Cubs followed a trend of first inning bombs, this time with Aramis Ramirez hitting a three-run shot and Michael Barrett smashing a deep double to score Derrick Lee for a 4-1 lead over the Red Birds.
Clement and Morris traded zeroes on the scoreboard for the next few innings, until Albert Pujols took Clement deep in the sixth inning with Scott Rolen doing the same in the seventh to make it a 4-3 game.
LaTroy Hawkins replaced Clement in the eighth and promptly retired the side in order. Hawkins gave way to closer Joe Borowski, who was tasked with not just closing out the game for the win and series victory, he was asked to do so against the heart of the Cardinals lineup. Borowski got Pujols to fly out, Jim Edmonds to strike out, and ended the game with a long, loud flyout to centerfield from Scott Rolen.
As we renew this great rivalry for the year 2021, we find ourselves seeing a few similarities between 2004 and now. The Cubs are once again heading into the series in second place. Impressively (depending who you ask!), the guys managing the Cubs and Cardinals in 2004 are both still managing MLB teams in 2021. And they were both kinda old when they were managing in 2004, to be honest. I am choosing to believe that the Cubs have a special ability to hit the long ball in the first inning when they play the Cardinals on May 21st, so I’m expecting early runs this weekend. Go Cubs.