Mark Prior doesn’t typically build his late-October schedule around the World Series unless he’s scheduled to be there.
But four years and a few days ago, he made sure he was in front of a TV to watch the team that came so close when he was a second-year, All-Star pitcher for the Cubs finally break through and make history in Cleveland.
“I was excited for them. I was excited for the fans and the city,” said one of the most talented and star-crossed pitchers in the history of one of baseball’s most storied and star-crossed franchises.
“I was excited for everybody there that I knew that was still around, whether it was the ushers, front-office people, clubhouse guys. …”
Not many remain with the Cubs from Prior’s last season there — fewer still from the ill-fated night in 2003 when he was on the mound for the five-outs-away Game 6 at Wrigley Field that nobody in Chicago may ever forget.
In fact, even 17 years later in his new job as pitching coach for the Dodgers, Prior continues to have flashbacks.
“I wouldn’t lie and say that when we were down 3-1 against the Braves [in the National League Championship Series last month] that I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’ve been on one side of this, and I want to be on the other side of this,’" Prior said this week during a conversation for the Cubs Talk Podcast.
“And I’m not going to lie in saying that every time we got within six outs or even three outs, I’m going, like, ‘Yeah, the 27th out is still the most important out.’ “
The biggest difference for Prior today is that he’s finally being fitted for the World Series ring he came so agonizingly close to winning as a player in 2003 before his and the team's fortunes unraveled quickly after that with a series of injuries and playoff misses.
“I think for young guys you always assume we’re going to do this again,” said Prior, the 2001 No. 2 overall draft pick, who was a 22-year-old All-Star just two years later. “But honestly, I remember [veteran teammate] Eric Karros. And he said right from the beginning when we clinched in Pittsburgh that last week of the season in ’03 — and he was videotaping this whole thing through the last [few] months, on probably VHS tapes back then. He’s like, ‘Remember this; this does not happen — this is not a foregone conclusion year in and year about,’ and he talked about how he had gone to the playoffs [in 1995 and ’96] and how long it had been since he’d been back.
“I’ve been fortunate to go to the playoffs the last three years with L.A. [as a coach], but 17 years later to have a chance — even in the NLCS, to get back to the World Series and then have a chance to win — yeah, it doesn’t happen all the time. … You know how hard it is.”
Prior, now 40, also talks on the podcast about nearly facing his old Cubs manager, Dusty Baker, in the World Series and what that might have been like, if only for the Dodgers-Astros rematch after the Astros cheating scandal from the 2017 Series before Baker got there — and whether Baker gets the credit he deserves as a manager.
And listen to the whole pod for how all the highs and lows during his Cubs career, and several comeback attempts with other teams, shaped his outlook and ability to relate to players as a coach — along with the journey through the Padres’ front office and minor-league fields that led him to the Dodgers.
And you won’t want to miss his thoughts on Rays manager Kevin Cash pulling ace Blake Snell from the decisive Game 6 in the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead and low pitch count after dominating the Dodgers.
“He was dealing,” Prior said. “And there’s no doubt about it: That was an emotional, momentum swing for us, just the fact of him [getting pulled] — forget what happened next.
“For our guys, It was almost like we hit a home run; they were cheering. So that is a fact. Our guys seemed to respond well to it [coming back to win]. But those [managerial/team decisions] are tough.”
Click the link below to listen to the full podcast.