Rozner: Cubs' Ross puts ultimate exclamation on career
A few minutes before the start of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, David Ross walked out to home plate at Progressive Field.
Joe Maddon had given him the lineup card and his job was to deliver it for the final time of his playing career. He shook hands with all six umpires on the World Series crew, chatted briefly, and slowly returned to the Cubs' dugout, looking into the stands and taking it all in.
At that moment, it was possible that those would be his last steps on a playing field as an active player.
A couple hours later, Jon Lester replaced Kyle Hendricks on the mound and Ross replaced Willson Contreras behind the plate.
Ross had a new lease on life.
A home plate ump with a sense of humor might have recalled aging Cowboy John Wayne at the end of his career in the movie "Big Jake," when various characters kept repeating to the veteran actor, "I thought you was dead."
Said Wayne in full twang each time, "Not hardly."
It would have worked for Ross in Game 7, when he had a particularly busy game for someone of his maturity.
"Old guys like me are supposed to go out quietly," Ross screamed with laughter, over the din of the postgame celebration. "I guess not."
Later in the Cubs' dugout, shielded from a postgame monsoon outside and a champagne bath inside, Ross sat with his wife and children and more reasonably discussed what had just occurred, out of harm's way and away from an unruly clubhouse.
"I had a feeling Jon would pitch," Ross said. "Joe mapped it out for us pretty good (Tuesday) night, so I thought I would get in there at some point.
"All hands on deck. Last game of the season. I don't have any more games to play so I was ready to play."
Kyle Hendricks had made few mistakes in Game 7 when he got squeezed on what should have been a called third strike to end the fifth inning. But after Carlos Santana walked and with Hendricks at only 63 pitches and having had two very good innings, Maddon made the double switch and brought in Lester and Ross.
A swinging-bunt basehit and an errant Ross throw down the first-base line put runners on second and third. When a Lester pitch bounced in front of the plate, hit Ross in the mask and scooted 30 feet away, both runners made it home and it was 5-3.
Ross, however, redeemed himself quickly when he jumped on a 1-2 pitch from all-world reliever Andrew Miller and blasted it to the deepest part of the park and over a leaping Rajai Davis for a 406-foot solo shot and a 6-3 Cubs lead.
"Lot of action there, right?" Ross said. "I felt like I came in the game and gave up two quick ones.
"I didn't get a good grip on that ball (Jason) Kipnis hit. Rushed it a bit, the adrenaline of the game. They get 2 runs. I was glad to hit the home run and get a run back for us. Was really happy about that."
From there, Lester was brilliant. He went 3 innings on two days' rest, throwing 55 pitches, giving up 3 hits with a walk and 4 strikeouts. He should have been the World Series MVP and victorious in Games 5 and 7 of a series in which his team trailed 3-1.
But Maddon again could not sit still.
With two outs in the eighth, a hard hit ball up the middle looked like the third out. Ross was running off the field. Addison Russell probably should have had it, but he overran it and the ball clanked off his glove.
With a runner on first, Maddon went to closer Aroldis Chapman to get 4 outs and Chapman immediately found trouble. After throwing 42 pitches Sunday and 20 Tuesday, Chapman gave up a run-scoring double to Brandon Guyer and Cleveland was within a pair.
On a 2-2 count, Davis fouled off a pair and then ripped a 2-run homer to left and Game 7 of the World Series was tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth.
But Ross said there was no fear on the Cubs' side and during a rain delay before the 10th inning, the players got together for a brief discussion. They remembered they were good and what they had overcome already in the postseason, and had no thoughts of this becoming a disaster.
"That's what people that aren't winners do. That's not what we did," Ross said. "That's people who worry about the problems instead of pushing forward.
"You have to be positive. You can't worry about what happened. You have to look ahead.
"It doesn't matter if it was tied or even if they had taken the lead. You continue to have your at-bats the way you're supposed to and make pitches the way you're supposed to.
"Losers worry about the problems."
After the winners won, Ross and wife Hyla were speechless in trying to describe what had just occurred. The very popular Ross had gone out on top, standing ovations to the end, hitting a home run in Game 7 of the World Series, and helping end a 108-year drought while winning the championship in extra innings after blowing a lead with your closer on the mound.
Where do you start?
"I honestly don't know," Ross said. "It's a classic if I ever saw one. Back and forth, extra innings, some of the best pitchers in baseball giving up homers on both sides.
"It says a lot about this group of guys. Always resilient, never quit, that's the mantra and you saw it in Game 7 of the World Series.
"For me to go out this way, oh my gosh. It's storybook. You can't write it any better. It's amazing. My family is here and I'm a part of this special group of guys.
"What else can you ask for? You can't make this stuff up. I can't find the words. Maybe you can find the words for me."
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