David Ross took several deep breaths and tried to gather his emotions as he walked toward the batter’s box in the fifth inning of his final regular-season game at Wrigley Field.
A sellout crowd stood and roared. The 39-year-old’s walk-up music, Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” blasted from the speakers. Yadier Molina stepped toward the mound to delay the game for a few more seconds and allow Ross to soak in the moment.
Two pitches later, Ross belted a home run into the left-field bleachers to break a scoreless tie. The Cubs held on for a 3-1 win over the Cardinals in their final home game of the regular season.
“It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn’t it?” Joe Maddon said. “It had to have happened.”
Ross, who is not shy about his emotions, laughed at the sight of a Kleenex box in front of him after the game.
“I felt like I floated around the bases,” said Ross, who hit 10 home runs in a season for the first time since 2007. “I don’t ever feel that way, and I definitely felt that way tonight when I hit that home run.”
By the seventh inning, Ross was a mess. He pulled his catcher’s mask low over his face to hide his tears.
Maddon visited the mound with two outs in the seventh inning. Ross walked toward the mound, ready to defend Jon Lester to keep the pitcher in the game.
Instead of pulling Lester for a reliever, Maddon replaced David Ross with rookie Willson Contreras. Teammates lined up in front of the dugout to meet Ross as he walked off the field to a standing ovation.
Maddon said Lester came to him before the game with the idea to give Ross a special sendoff.
“It means a lot,” Ross said of Lester’s plan. “For him to give me that was pretty cool.”
Fans demanded a curtain call from Ross – his second of the night. He held his mitt in one hand and his mask in the other as he waved toward the crowd.
“He’s earned every bit of respect that he’s gotten,” Lester said. “I’m glad that tonight he got to feel that from his teammates and feel that from the fans, and even the Cardinals on the other side.”
The Cubs set a franchise record with their 57th win at Wrigley Field, breaking the previous mark of 56 wins that was set in 1933 and matched in 1935.
Maddon’s team finished the regular season with a 57-24 record at home. The Cubs will return to Wrigley on Oct. 7 for the start of the National League Division Series.
“The stakes are going to be a little higher when we play here next time,” Dexter Fowler said with a grin.
Getting a chance
Rob Zastryzny is scheduled to make his first start in the big leagues on Thursday against the Pirates. Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta are set to start the series’ first three games.