Cubs, fans give Ross an epic send-off

Retiring catcher homers in Wrigley finale, then gets surprise tribute

Cubs, fans give Ross an epic send-off

CHICAGO -- David Ross was ticked when Cubs manager Joe Maddon came to the mound with two outs in the seventh inning. Jon Lester was pitching well and had not given up a run against the Cardinals.

"Honestly, I'm like, 'Why is he taking Jon out?'" Ross said. "[Maddon] says, 'I've never done this before, but I'm taking you out of the game.' And then I pulled my mask down because everyone started telling me they loved me, and the emotions started, so I'm trying to get myself together before I walked off the field and then the fans started cheering again."

Sunday was the Cubs' final home regular-season game, and Lester wanted to make sure that his batterymate, who is retiring once they're done in the postseason, got a proper send-off. You couldn't script it any better. Ross hit a solo homer, his 10th, to help the Cubs beat the Cardinals, 3-1, and notch their 99th win. And he was greeted by standing ovations before every at-bat.

Must C: Ross goes out in style

"All he could say was, 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys,'" Lester said of Ross' reaction when he realized what Maddon was doing. "I've been with him a long time and we've been through a lot together. I tried to hold it together until I turned around and saw [Anthony] Rizzo [crying]."

Backup catchers usually don't get this kind of attention. But Ross, 39, is different.

"I really wanted to do something that was special to him and special to me and make sure he really understood that we appreciate him and what he does and brings on a day to day basis," Lester said.

It's been a yearlong celebration for Ross, beginning in Spring Training when Rizzo and Kris Bryant started an Instagram account honoring "Grandpa Rossy." Jason Heyward paid for a suite on the road for Ross for every road trip and the players bought the veteran a scooter to get around the practice facility in Mesa, Ariz.

Cubs fans salute Ross

On Sunday night, Ross was the toast of Wrigley Field.

"I was overcome with emotion," Ross said. "I'm so appreciative to the fans in Chicago for the way they treated me and the way they embraced me and treated me and this team and the way they give me so much credit that I don't deserve."

The game meant something to the Cubs as well. Lester picked up his National League-leading 19th win, and he's now 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break. He went 10-2 with a 1.74 ERA in 15 home starts, and all were quality starts. And Ross was behind the plate for every one.

Maddon on win, Ross

The game was scoreless until Ross connected on his home run with one out in the fifth. Let the record show that Maddon called it.

"I honestly had just said to Davey [Martinez] and coach [John] Mallee after the second ovation, I said, 'Doesn't he have to hit a home run tonight?' And then the next pitch goes," Maddon said. "It had to happen.

"My thought was this was something that he'll absolutely carry with him the rest of his life. This is the video that you want. This is the one thing you want to put in the VCR at some point."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for 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.