CHICAGO -- Has a backup catcher ever been honored as he approached his retirement as much as Chicago Cubs backstop David Ross? This time it was Cubs fans who kept the party going -- along with good friend Jon Lester -- two days after the team honored him.
Ross received four standing ovations and two curtain calls on Sunday night during the Cubs' 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals while Lester orchestrated a surprise mid-inning visit by manager Joe Maddon to give his catcher a moment in the spotlight.
"What a treat for a backup catcher to get," Ross said after the win, the Cubs' 99th of the season and record 57th at home. "Just overcome with emotion."
It began in the second inning when Ross came to the plate for the first time in the game. The crowd gave him a standing ovation while Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina "showed a lot of class," according to Ross, allowing the moment to linger by walking halfway to the mound. Standing ovation No. 2 came in the fifth, again before Ross stepped into the batter's box. This time he homered, breaking a scoreless tie and sending 40,859 fans into a frenzy. Curtain call No.1 came moments later.
"I felt like I floated around the bases," Ross said smiling.
Maddon added: "It was just fitting David would hit a home run, isn't it? It had to happen tonight."
It was Ross' 10th home run this season, his most since 2007. The Hollywood script didn't end there, as his final plate appearance came in the sixth inning -- but with a runner on second base and the pitcher due up, the Cardinals decided to intentionally walk him. Standing ovation No.3 quickly turned into boos as Ross took four balls and walked to first base.
"Usually the fans are cheering when they intentionally walk me," Ross joked.
Meanwhile, Lester was mowing the Cardinals down in his quest to win the National League Cy Young Award. He was leading 2-0, getting two quick outs in the seventh inning while barely reaching 80 pitches when Maddon made a walk to the mound. Was he really taking Lester out before he could finish the inning? He was actually there to pull Ross, as the manager and Lester had hatched a plan the day before to give their catcher a proper send-off.
"I felt like that was going to be the best time for people to really recognize him," Lester explained. "There's not many backup catchers in this game that get that. I really wanted to do something that was special to him and special to me ... When Joe came out there, you can tell Rossy was pretty heated [thinking Maddon was pulling Lester]. He was ready to let him hear it about where I was [with] my pitch [count]."
Ross confirmed he was angry at first. He had no idea it was all about him.
"I'm like, 'Why is he taking Jon out?'" Ross said. "I'm kind of getting pissed."
Lester continued: "It's like the kid in the candy story when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants. The disbelief in his face as he slams the face mask back down, [emotionally] saying, 'I love you guys, I love you guys, I love you guys.'"
Then, Ross walked off the field to standing ovation No.4, followed by curtain call No.2. The water works took over from there. Ross was seen crying in the dugout on more than one occasion.
"How about Rossy," Lester said in summing up the night. "He only cried about three times."
The two close friends are likely to take the field together the next time the Cubs play at Wrigley, as that will be Game 1 of the divisional round of the playoffs on Oct. 7. As Lester's personal catcher, Ross and the Cubs lefty have combined to produce a magical season for Lester, who improved to 19-4 with a 2.28 ERA after Sunday's game.
"I thought Jon was fantastic again," Maddon said. "Definitely making a strong case for the award. One win away from 20 wins and very close to 200 innings."
Lester likely will get more than enough attention next month when he leads the Cubs into the postseason, but Sunday was about his 39-year-old reserve catcher playing in his final regular-season home game, which produced plenty of emotional moments. A home run, four standing ovations and two curtain calls will do that.
"I couldn't write it any better," Ross said, undoubtedly between tears.