Comeback kid: Clutch hit 'special' for Kalish

Comeback kid: Clutch hit 'special' for Kalish

CHICAGO -- Ryan Kalish isn't supposed to be playing baseball, not after seven surgeries. Once a top prospect for the Red Sox, he had spinal fusion surgery in 2013, and more recently, microfracture knee surgery on both knees, which kept him out of the big leagues in 2015. He began his comeback for this season in the Puerto Rico winter league in November.

In mid-February this year, he had signed with the Sioux City Explorers and was ready to play in an independent league. But he returned to the Cubs in early March, was assigned to Triple-A Iowa, and then called up when Matt Szczur was injured. On Saturday, Kalish delivered a pinch-hit two-run single in the sixth that was key in Chicago's 8-5 come-from-behind win over Washington.

"When I got the hit, the dugout was just losing it," Kalish said of the ball that sailed just beyond the reach of shortstop Danny Espinosa. "That was so special to me. They know I'm here to help them win, they know I'm good enough, but they also know where I've come from. You could just feel it immediately. I looked in the dugout and people are jumping like crazy. I had some emotion at first base."

The knee injuries could've ended his career.

"I didn't think I was done, but at the very least, I was going to play [independent] ball," Kalish said. "If nobody gave me a chance, then, cool, I'd walk away, and probably work my way into coaching, hopefully a coaching role in the big leagues. It was no give up. I was just going to ride it out and at least play somewhere for a year."

The Cubs, who have shown that "never quit" attitude this season, welcomed Kalish.

"I look in the dugout and see Dexter [Fowler] just losing it, and it's amazing," Kalish said. "It's so special to me. I'm just really blessed and happy."

"The guys know," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. "They know about him and what he's done and why he's here. They know he's going to go up there and give you a professional at-bat, which he did. Of course, the guys are pulling for him. You just can't help but pull for the guy. With good health, this is a good baseball player and he knows what he's doing out there. I saw it in Spring Training. I saw him with the Red Sox years ago before he got banged up and he was good."

Kalish was batting .368 in 20 games at Triple-A Iowa this season and is 2-for-5 so far with the Cubs. Szczur, sidelined with a hamstring injury, is not eligible to return until May 18. Kalish is ready for anything.

"I tell people, I'm playing with house money right now," he said. "This is awesome. Every day I get -- and then to add this type of moment and hopefully add more, I'm very thankful."

Maddon pushed all the right buttons on Saturday. He could've used Javier Baez instead of Kalish in the sixth, but said Kalish is more of a contact hitter and would accept a walk in that situation. It worked.

"This is what it's all about," Kalish said. "This is what I've been working for during that whole year off. This team is so much fun to play for. When you get a moment like that -- just to contribute, it was so much fun out there. The energy when that happened, I can't even describe it."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.