Cubs

Cubs: How Dave Roberts and 2004 Red Sox saved Quintin Berry's career

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Cubs: How Dave Roberts and 2004 Red Sox saved Quintin Berry's career

Quintin Berry was in junior college when he watched pinch-runner Dave Roberts steal second base in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.

There's no way Berry could have known that moment would alter the course of his life forever.

It was arguably the most famous stolen base in baseball history, as Roberts wound up scoring the game-tying run on a Bill Mueller single off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and the Boston Red Sox then went on to win Game 4 in extra innings before overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the series.

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Of course, the Red Sox then broke the Curse of the Bambino and ended their 86-year drought by winning the World Series.

The Cubs called Berry up to the majors when rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and the 30-year-old outfielder/pinch-runner was quick to admit he wouldn't even be here without Roberts' heroics 11 years ago.

Berry wound up in Boston at the end of 2013, where he served as a designated pinch-runner and earned a ring with the world champion Red Sox.

"I talked to [Roberts] in '13 when I got over there to the Red Sox," Berry said. "I told him, 'You don't know this, but 2004 got me a job now in 2013.'

"What he did allowed me to be part of that World Series team. I was grateful for that. He had no idea how much he changed the game back then and how it was going to affect everything now.

"It's continued to get me a job and give me and opportunity to come out here and help ballclubs."

Berry is essentially up with the Cubs as a designated runner.

He's a perfect 25-for-25 in stolen-base attempts in his big-league career and that speed and sense on the basepaths has helped him bounce around to eight different organizations since he broke into professional baseball in 2006 as a fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Berry stole three bases without recording a plate appearance with the Red Sox during their 2013 run, but the speedster also made it to the World Series in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers as an everyday outfielder.

He sees a lot of similarities between the 2015 Cubs and both those teams that made deep runs in October.

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"In 2013, everybody was real close - a tight-knit group," Berry said. "Here, it's the same thing. Everybody's loud, everybody's vocal, everybody's fired up every day.

"The celebrations and everything after the games when we win and how everybody's pulling for each other - it's the same feeling. I feel like a winning team has to have that love and that passion for the game for one another.

"It's definitely here. It's pretty fun to be here and be a part of it."

At the same time, Berry also said this Cubs team has its own identity and is different from the other winning teams he's been on. He attributes most of that to youth.

"These boys are loud, these boys are wild, these boys are hungry," Berry said. "You've got a lot of young guys here that are on the verge of doing something they've never done before. They're all excited and it's all new to them.

"It's nice to have that freshness - everybody out here and being hungry and ready to go."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.