In a scene straight out of Hollywood, Chicago Cubs backup catcher John Baker, 33, had fans chanting his name after the longest game, by the clock but not by innings, in the team’s history. Baker pulled off the unprecedented feat for a backup receiver of not only pitching the top of the last inning, but scoring the winning run himself in the bottom of the inning and getting the W. he said after the game, “That’s any Chicagoan’s dream, to be standing at home plate with the remaining people at Wrigley Field chanting your name.”
The six-hour, 27-minute game broke the record of six hours and 10 minutes, set Aug. 17-18, 1982, in a 21-inning game.
Baker entered the game in the top of the 16th with the Cubs and the Colorado Rockies tied, 3-3. He had been told by the Cubs dugout around the 12th inning that he might be pitching if the game continued too long. He said, “They asked if I’d be willing to do that, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ [I’m not going to say] I don’t want to pitch at Wrigley Field in the longest game of Cubs history in the 100th anniversary [season] and give myself a chance to get the win. I trust my stuff.”
Baker had never pitched in the bigs, and commented later, “I was trying to work the cutter in, but it wasn’t really cutting, it was sinking. I was trying to throw the sinker, and that one was cutting. No matter how hard or soft I threw the ball, it ended up in that 76 to 79 range, which is five miles an hour below the straight hitting speed.” Baker joked that he shook off catcher Welington Castillo twice, then fired his 76-mph “heater.” He threw only 11 pitches in the inning.
He got Charlie Culberson to pop up, walked Drew Stubbs, then induced Cristhian Adames to bounce into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. Baker said, “I was really excited. You would fist pump, too, if you got a double play in The Show in the 16th inning.”
The Cubs had one more reliever in the bullpen, Hector Rondon, but Rondon was deemed unavailable by manager Rick Renteria because he had pitched the previous two days as well as four of the previous five. Renteria bemusedly said, “It wasn’t the game plan when we started. Obviously, that’s the way it ended.”
The Rockies had their chances. In the 10th they tried a suicide squeeze, but DJ LeMahieu missed a bunt and Justin Morneau, trying to score, was tagged out in a rundown. Rockies manger Walt Weiss said, “Fifteen innings without scoring a run, you don’t deserve to win. Three runs in the first and their starter is out of the game early. You can’t win that game, you don’t deserve to win.”
When Baker led of the 16th, the few hundred people still left in the stands chanted his name. Baker recalled with delight:
The last time that many people cheered, it was because I got booed at Dodger Stadium after we got in a fight with the Dodgers. That was the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard. That was sad, because they were booing me, and this one I was happy, because they were chanting my name. Any Chicagoans dream is to be standing at home plate with the remaining people at Wrigley Field chanting your name. It’s something I’ll never forget.
Leading off in the bottom of the 16th, Baker walked, then moved to second on Emilio Bonifacio’s sacrifice. Arismendy Alcantara followed by being hit by a pitch and when Anthony Rizzo singled, the bases were loaded for Starlin Castro, who flied out to right, scoring Baker.
After the game, Baker received a celebratory shower. He said, “I got beer, I got chocolate milk, I got hair gel, I got shampoo, I got body wash, and then I got more beer. Best shower I’ve ever taken.”
Baker asked to keep the lineup card and a game ball, and laughed that that the coaches figured he could pitch since he normally threw the distance when he returned the ball to the pitcher. He added that he informed Renteria that he would be available to pitch on Wednesday.