He’s a catcher. Not a pitcher.
He hasn’t hit a home run in 5 years and hasn’t pitched in over 12.
Last night at Wrigley Field, 6 hours into the longest game the Cubs have ever played in their 100+ year history, John Baker was called off the bench to pitch the 16th inning.
And boy did he.
Not particularly well, compared to actual professional baseball pitchers, but he only walked one batter and promptly coerced the next batter to ground into a double play.
He ended his inning without giving up a run and when he came up to the plate at the bottom end of the inning, Baker drew a walk and eventually scored the winning run. It was an exclamation point at the end of a historic and wonderfully epic game that meant nothing to the last place teams, but everything to the players and fans who experienced it.
When it was over his teammates showered him with beer, chocolate milk, shampoo: anything they could pour on him.
“I think about all the guys I played with who are pitchers who are very good and never got a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” Baker told reporters after the game. “My hat is off to all those guys that grinded for so long and never got a chance to pitch. It’s something I definitely will cherish for a long time.’’
See kids, that’s class.
Baker hadn’t pitched since his early days in the minor leagues and remembers that season fondly.
“It was the Cape Cod League,” he said. “I believe I had like a 27.00 ERA, but I was getting squeezed from what I remember.”
Last night, however, the exhausted umpires were more forgiving.
“I shook a split-finger (fastball) and yanked it a little bit,” Baker continued, noting a pitch that veered off closer to Indiana than to the strike zone. “So I just decided I was going to bang it and go with a straight 76 mph heater. That seemed to be the most effective pitch in the game.“
About 1,000 loyal fans made it to the end of the game and when the catcher/pitcher led off the bottom of the 17th he was greeted with hearty chants of his name.
Baker walked to lead off the rally in the 17th, he was bunted over to 2nd. he eventually made it to 3rd, and then Cubs star Starlin Castro hit a long drive to right. Baker tagged up and scored the winning run with a mighty slide at home beating the throw. The chants continued and quickly segued into the “Go Cubs Go” victory song.
“Any Chicagoan’s dream is to be standing at home plate with the remaining people at Wrigley Field chanting your name, so it’s something you’ll never forget,” Baker said.