Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 3:49 p.m. Updated: 6:34 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
Jeff Baker walked back toward the dugout and looked down at the binder Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo placed on the ledge.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were changing relievers in the eighth inning of what was suddenly a tie game. Baker went over his keys, a few quick tendencies on Blake Hawksworth and got ready for another professional at-bat.
The Cubs had already erased a three-run deficit against Matt Guerrier, who came into the game with a 0.00 ERA. Baker excels against left-handers but the Dodgers have none of those in their bullpen.
Manager Mike Quade could have pinch-hit for Baker, but liked how he was already in the flow of Saturdays game. Hawksworth left a breaking ball up, and Baker barreled it.
The line drove bounced all the way to the wall in right field, just below the 368 sign at Wrigley Field, for a two-run double that completed a 10-8 comeback victory.
Its a decision you make and say, The guys been doing a hell of a job for us, lets give him a shot to win this thing, Quade said. And Ill be damned, he did it.
Darwin Barney who has emerged to take the second-base job away from Baker scored first on the play. Aramis Ramirez the third baseman Baker backs up in case of injury scored next.
That leaves Baker as a utility infielder, starting at first base on Saturday in place of Carlos Pena against left-hander Ted Lilly.
Hes always prepared for whatevers thrown at him, pitcher Ryan Dempster said.
Baker will turn 30 this summer and understands how hes being perceived at this stage in his career. He does not want to be labeled as a utility guy and doesnt think the sample size is big enough to say he cant hit right-handers.
But youll never hear Baker whos hitting .361 ripping the manager or the organization.
Thats not my style I like to win, Baker said. Obviously, you in your mind have ways that you want it to go and you want it to happen. But if it doesnt, its not about just me. There are 25 guys on the team. Im not going to complain.
My job is to play when they tell me to play.
The Cubs needed contributions from all over the roster to finish off the Dodgers (11-11).
Reed Johnson another bench player went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored. Jeff Samardzija earned the win by getting four outs and getting the ball to Carlos Marmol, who notched his fifth save.
We know that we have a lot of pieces to the puzzle, Barney said. We believe in ourselves. We dont feel were out of the game until its over. We think we can do some things this year. Thats what keeps us going.
The 10-10 Cubs have set a major-league record by hitting the .500 mark every step of the way, which led Quade to say: Its been the strangest 20-game start that I can remember at any level, anywhere.
Inevitably, things will happen over the next 142 games and the Cubs will need players to step up. Baker will be ready for it. He wont be looking over his shoulder for a pinch-hitter.
Thats not my call, Baker said. I dont worry about that stuff. I believe I can hit righties, lefties, it doesnt matter. I dont prepare to go up there and get taken out. I prepare to go up there and get the hit.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views