Catcher becomes first non-pitcher to earn win for franchise in 16-inning affair
CHICAGO -- Catcher John Baker rarely answers his cell phone during the season, and didn't acknowledge the 100-plus text messages that clogged his inbox early Wednesday after becoming the first Cubs position player to win a game as a pitcher in franchise history.
"I made sure I caught up on the last episode of 'Real Housewives of Orange County,'" Baker said before Wednesday's game against the Rockies.
Baker not only pitched, but scored the game-winning run in the 16th inning on a sacrifice fly after leading off with a walk. His run ended the 6-hour, 27-minute marathon, the longest game time-wise in Cubs franchise history.
"It's one of those things, when do you get a chance to do that ever?" Baker said. "First position player ever to get a win as a Chicago Cub, and this organization has been around for years. I think it shows how rare stuff like that is."
Baker faced the minimum, throwing 11 pitches, and was aided by a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. His repertoire included a knuckleball, a sinker -- which he said bullpen coach Lester Strode taught him before going in -- and a four-seamer that was so off-speed that it was officially recorded a changeup.
"I think he was smart enough to know that if he stayed below the hitting speed, he was going to be effective," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "And that's what he did. He threw strikes. If he threw like 85 or 86, he probably would've gotten lit up. Mid-to-upper 70s, you usually don't see that in the scouting report."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said "it's not a whole lot of fun" to send a position player to pitch, but that the thought arose as early as three weeks ago. And the last-resort decision wasn't difficult.
"Bake as a catcher throws back to the pitcher as many times as the pitcher throws to the plate," Renteria said. "The distance is the same, it's just in a different direction."
The Cubs had used starting pitchers Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta as pinch-hitters. The only reliever left was closer Héctor Rondon, whom the team wanted to avoid using because he had pitched two days in a row.
Weiss, who used Thursday's starter, Tyler Matzek, in the 16th, said he's even less apt to rely on a position player in that instance. Though that didn't stop a few Rockies from voicing their cause.
"Everyone starts talking about their pitching stories when they were 14 or how they pitched in Cooperstown when they were 12 and threw a two-hitter against some team from Beijing," Weiss said. "Those stories all started circulating last night."
Wilin Rosario noted the difficulty of facing a non-pitcher. The Rockies couldn't slow down their bats enough for Baker's 76-mph lobs.
"It's hard, after seeing hard pitches all night and then seeing something like that," Rosario said. "It's like playing baseball and then someone pitching a softball."
When Baker arrived at Wrigley on Wednesday, his No. 12 was still on the famed center field scoreboard as the home team pitcher.
He couldn't help but pull out his phone and snap a picture.
Daniel Kramer is an associate reporter for MLB.com.