CHICAGO — As the story goes, the Chicago Cubs called up a rookie pitcher in 1954 from Beaumont named Bob Zick.
Upon arriving at Wrigley Field, he approached Manager Stan Hack and said, "I'm Zick."
"Oh, yeah," said Hack, his team mired near the bottom of the National League standings, "I don't feel so good myself."
Cub fans are more acquainted with that feeling than any other fans in baseball, the latest relapse occurring in Game 6 of the National League championship series on Tuesday night.
That's when the Cubs, five outs from their first World Series berth in 58 years, allowed eight runs in one of the wackiest innings of their wacky history and turned a 3-0 lead into an 8-3 defeat.
Before a boisterous crowd of 39,577, the Cubs appeared to be in complete control going into the eighth inning. Starting pitcher Mark Prior, who had won 12 of his previous 13 games, had allowed three hits through seven innings. No Marlin had reached as far as second base since the third.
But strange things began to happen. With one out, Juan Pierre doubled. It appeared Luis Castillo would become the second out when he hit a pop foul into the front row down the third base line that looked like it would be caught by left fielder Moises Alou.
A fan, however, grabbed for the ball. In typical Cub fashion, he dropped it. But he prevented Alou from securing the out.
A shaken Prior then walked Castillo on a wild pitch. Pudge Rodriguez drove Pierre home for the Marlins' first run.
Then the Cubs' usually sure-handed shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, failed to field a one-hopper right to him. And so on and so on.
This was the ending no one wanted to see. Or at least no one outside of South Florida, the home of the Marlins, or the South Side of Chicago, the home of the White Sox.
You can't even be all that sure about South Florida, where a lot of Chicagoans have migrated. You can, however, be sure about the South Side of Chicago, where fans refuse to recognize baseball is still being played somewhere else in the city.
It might not be after tonight, when Game 7 will be played at Wrigley Field, because these Marlins are not so easy to beat. In six playoff victories this season, they have had to come from behind in five.
"Some of you guys here wrote that we shouldn't even have showed up," said a feisty Marlin Manager Jack McKeon in a postgame news conference.
"We can't beat Prior. We can't beat [Kerry] Wood. We can't beat anybody.
"And we may not beat them. But we're going to battle them and give them their money's worth and make them earn it."
But even he acknowledged that the story of this game would not be that the Marlins won but that the Cubs lost.
Asked about the curse that supposedly has afflicted the Cubs since local tavern owner Billy Sianis was prevented from bringing his pet goat into Wrigley Field for a game, McKeon said, "It makes you think a little bit. You guys keep talking. I think it might happen."
McKeon said of the wacky eighth inning: "I've never seen an inning like that in the playoffs."
Alou said afterward he would have caught the ball if the fan hadn't interfered.
"At the same time," he said, "I feel bad for the fan, because every fan at a baseball game wants to catch a foul ball. He wants a souvenir. I feel bad for him, if he was a Cubs fan."
If the Cubs don't win tonight and advance to the World Series, the fan no doubt will go down in the team's hall of infamy, along with Jose Cardenal, who missed much of spring training one year because an eyelid stuck shut, and relief pitcher Ray Fontenot, who once fell and broke his ribs while on his way to answer the bullpen phone.
Dusty Baker, who has emphasized to his players since he became their manager before this season that they are the new Cubs, refused to concede that the curse might have revisited the team Tuesday night.
"No, it has nothing to do with the curse," he said. "It has to do with the fan interference, the very uncharacteristic error by Gonzo, because he doesn't miss anything. And then they just started hitting. It has nothing to do with the curse. It has to do with their bats."
But who can be sure. Taking an oath on former White Sox owner Bill Veeck's wooden leg that he was switching allegiances after a lifetime of supporting the Cubs, late Chicago columnist Mike Royko once wrote, "I always believed that being a Cubs fan built strong character.
"It taught a person that if you try hard enough and long enough, you'll still lose. And that's the story of life."