The story of Ryan Kalish’s baseball career is one of bad breaks and several unfortunately necessary comebacks.
But maybe Saturday’s two-run, pinch-hit single can be the start of a new, better chapter.
Fitting that it was one of the biggest hits in a comeback win.
In just his fourth game back in the big leagues after taking 2015 off to get healthy, Kalish stepped to the plate with the Cubs down a run, the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning. He delivered a bloop single that fell out of the reach of a diving Danny Espinosa at shortstop, driving in two runs and giving the Cubs a lead.
Not a bad way to cap his latest comeback.
“This is what it’s all about. This is what I’ve been working for during that whole year off,” Kalish said Saturday. “This team is so much fun to play for, when you get a moment like that, just to contribute, it was so much fun out there. The energy when that happened, I can’t even describe what I felt.”
Of course, this isn’t Kalish’s first comeback.
Theo Epstein’s front office drafted Kalish into the Boston Red Sox organization way back in 2006, and in 2007 a pitch broke a bone in Kalish’s wrist and forced him to miss the rest of the minor league season.
He cracked the big leagues in 2010 as one of Boston’s most highly touted prospects, appearing in 53 games. Injured multiple times in 2011, he played in just 24 minor league games. He played in just 36 big league games in 2012 after offseason surgery, and he missed the entire 2013 season recovering from another surgery.
In 2014, he played 57 games for Epstein and the Cubs in his first stint on the North Side. But he left to sign elsewhere, health issues preventing him from signing a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. So he didn’t play much at all in 2015, appearing in no major or minor league games, taking time off to get healthy. He tried out in the spring and signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in March, getting the call back to the bigs earlier this week.
“I didn’t really expect it, so that’s what makes it special for me. I feel like I’m playing with house money,” Kalish said. “I didn’t expect to even get a shot, and now I’m here. It’s great.
“Actually it was pretty relaxed. I’ve been called up before, and I’ve made comebacks before. And you get all hyped up, and you get a little too nervous, too many nerves. So it was nice to just kind of feel relaxed and know that all the work was good. Obviously the level is better, but everything’s the same, the dimensions are the same, it’s the same game. I feel like the more you keep that in perspective the better.”
Kalish got on base twice and scored a run in his first start Thursday. But Saturday’s moment was obviously a bigger deal, given the circumstances.
“I was so happy for him. He’s one of my favorite teammates of all time,” third baseman Kris Bryant said Sunday. “I got the chance to play with him in Triple-A a lot. He just brings it every day, even if he’s not feeling good. I know he’s had a lot of injuries. For him to be up here making his journey back here — I think he had to have a tryout in spring training just to make a team. For him to be up here, I’m so happy for him and I hope he’s here for a long time.”
“The guys know, they know about him. They know what he's done, why he’s here. And they know he’s going to go up there and give you a pro at-bat, which he did,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So of course the guys are pulling for him. You just can’t help but pull for the guy. With good health, this guy’s a good baseball player, he knows what he’s doing out there.”
Kalish’s contribution was a big deal in the perspective of his career and what he’s been through, but it was yet another example of the Cubs getting a contribution from an unexpected source.
This team has made a habit of that, with guys like Tommy La Stella and David Ross playing just as big of roles as the usual suspects like Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler.
As Maddon said Saturday, you don’t have a 23-6 record without a strong bench. On this team with World Series expectations, it’s crucial to get contributions from everywhere, even guys just up from the minor leagues. Chalk it up to talent, sure, but also to the atmosphere Maddon and the players have created.
“It’s contagious in here. There’s confidence brewing in all aspects,” Kalish said. “The more everyone gets out there, the better. When you see guys like Tommy and people making names for themselves, it’s really good to watch.”
Saturday, everyone got to watch him.
“Everyone in this clubhouse is pulling for me, you can feel it,” Kalish said. “What I was told by Joe and everyone was, ‘When your name’s called, let’s win.’ What happened today, that was a part of it.”