Veteran catcher helps Cubs beat Pirates with homer, squeeze bunt
By Cody Stavenhagen
CHICAGO -- As David Ross came to bat in the eighth inning of a 4-3 Cubs win against the Pirates on Saturday, the Wrigley Field crowd was singing along to the "Forever Young" tune that so fittingly accompanies him to the plate.
Ross took the first Mark Melancon pitch, a cutter down the middle, but for good reason.
"I wasn't concentrating," Ross said. "I was feeling the crowd. When you get that feeling in this game, you have to take it in."
On a Cubs team that has the best record in baseball and is on pace to finish with one of the best records in Major League history, the most beloved player in Chicago might be an aging catcher with -- after Saturday -- all of 101 career home runs.
"Cubs fans get it," manager Joe Maddon said. "They see or watch his interviews and his commercials, and I'm certain they connect with his sense of humor. ... We have such astute baseball fans here, so I think it's an easy marriage -- David Ross and the Cubs fan base."
Really, though, it's one of those things you have to see to understand.
Saturday, as "Hit The Road, Jack" blared over the Wrigley Field speakers and Pirates left-hander Jonathon Niese walked off the field, the 39-year-old Ross stepped out from the Cubs dugout for a curtain call. He got a standing ovation, hugged Anthony Rizzo and tipped his batting helmet to those fans who have made him a hero.
More importantly, he had just continued his magical run in what is expected to be his final Major League season.
Ross hit a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning against Niese, a rocket off a 3-2 fastball. It was Ross' fifth homer in 94 at-bats this season after he had only one in 159 at-bats last year.
"To be in the position I'm in and get a curtain call, my second curtain call ever in my career, and they both happened here, and just the appreciation, it's fun," Ross said. "It's a great feeling and one I think I'll cherish for a long, long time."
Ross had the game's biggest hit, but he also had smaller moments that were just as integral to the win. In the first inning, he threw out Andrew McCutchen trying to steal third despite McCutchen having a huge lead and a good jump.
In the fourth, he executed a safety squeeze with a good bunt to score Javier Baez and give the Cubs a needed run.
After the game, as usual, Ross also delivered with some jokes.
"Usually it's somebody else on this team, so it's nice for me to get a big hit every once in a while," he said.
That's typical Ross, and a big part of what has made the mid-level player so warmly embraced. He can bring humor, no doubt. And Saturday, he could hit, too.
"That's what I keep talking about," Maddon said. "We have a group of charismatic, authentic players on this team, and I think if you're Chicago, that's what you kind of dig."
Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.