696 games later, he gets his 1st at-bat, and well ...

June 23rd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- At-bats are for closers.

Cubs reliever David Robertson waited until the 696th game of his 14-season career for his first. So who can blame him for smiling after striking out?

In the ninth inning of the Cubs' 14-5 rout of the Pirates on Wednesday, the veteran reliever, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning, grabbed Yan Gomes' helmet and Christopher Morel's bat to see how the other half lives. It's an opportunity that, in Robertson’s words, “made my dream come true.”

“[Manager David Ross and I] talked about it before the position player got in,” Robertson said. “If the DH was up and I came in, he could pinch-hit me for the DH. So we talked about it. I just didn’t think it was going to happen. We had to go all the way through the order for me to get up there.

“And then I blew it. I blew it!”

Entering Wednesday, Robertson’s 695 career games were fourth most of any player without a plate appearance, behind only Buddy Groom (786), Joakim Soria (773) and Bryan Shaw (722). The last time he’d made a plate appearance was high school.

Not to mention, he stepped in against a position player. Trailing 10-1 entering the ninth, the Pirates put second baseman Diego Castillo on the hill, and you'll never guess what happened: The Cubs sent seven men to the plate -- including four with two outs -- giving Robertson his long-awaited at-bat.

“I saw him smiling, feeling happy because he was going to have his first at-bat, probably,” Castillo said. “Feels good. He’s had a long time in the big leagues. I was just thinking, ‘OK, let’s see what happens. Throw the ball over the plate and let’s see what he’s going to do.’”

"He couldn't stop smiling on-deck," Ross said. "Feels like he's a kid at heart a lot of times, even when he's pitching. ... His teammates were definitely enjoying that, I was enjoying that. It was fun."

Like the professional hitter he is, Robertson worked the count full after falling behind 1-2. But on a shoulder-high 50.7 mph fastball (?), Robertson took a mighty swing and came up empty. But he left the batter's box smiling, telling his dugout: "I wasn't not going to swing."

“It was easy to tell when it was going to be a ball or a strike when it’s 40 mph, but I wasn’t going to walk,” Robertson said. “I was going to swing. I had to try. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another opportunity, so I’m glad I did.”

The .000 number on his career line hardly matters. And not only does he have the memory -- he was gifted the lineup card from the game as a souvenir for his wonderful whiff-filled at-bat.

“It’s just a fun atmosphere,” Robertson said. “I get ribbed in the dugout, and then I get the lineup card from my first at-bat and get told how bad I stink after the game. We were having a great time. It’s nice to have days like that.”