By James Pennington
MILWAUKEE — Putting the biggest night of one person’s life in perspective is difficult. Especially immediately afterward, how does one have the proper scope to describe a single event that a person’s entire life to that point had built up to?
Such is the challenge of writing on what happened in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
The Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, in a game that was blown open in the late innings. This is not unusual. Milwaukee scored its five runs on just three hits. That is unusual. According to BrewCrewBall.com, it was just the third time in 6,955 games in Brewers’ franchise history that they’ve scored five runs on three or fewer hits.
That bit of baseball perspective is easy and immediate: What that team did Tuesday in Miller Park is something that’s only happened three times to that team since the current franchise expanded as the Seattle Pilots in 1969, or roughly once every 14 seasons.
But how do you quantify the unquantifiable?
Chris Rusin. (Photo from the Chicago Cubs)
Former UK left-hander Chris Rusin made his major league debut Tuesday as the Cubs’ starting pitcher. Sitting in the stands at Miller Park on Tuesday, the moment didn’t seem all that big. It was a road game for the Cubs, and Brewer fans weren’t painfully aware of the news as they would have been if it were Harper or Trout and not Rusin.
The fans of Section 333 didn’t even realize the opposing pitcher was making his debut until the third inning or so. Baseball well may be the only event in which a large group of people can be sitting a few hundred feet away from a person finally experiencing the biggest day of his life without that large group realizing until about an hour in. When you go to a wedding, all parties present know it’s a big day for bride and bridegroom. The same prior knowledge is generally true for a child’s birth.
Even then, Rusin had to hit a triple in his first major league plate appearance—on the first pitch of his first major league plate appearance, no less—for people to begin audibly asking, “Who is this guy?”
That Guy was the Cubs’ pitcher that, when he took to the left-handed batter’s box in the top of the third, had pitched two major league innings and hadn’t yet surrendered a baserunner. Six up, six down. Then he hit a triple on the first pitch ever thrown to him by someone in a major league cap.
For as long as Rusin plays, whether he retires tomorrow or pitches for 20 years or does something more reasonable in between, he can always say he got a hit before he gave one up.
Rusin was stranded on third, and he came back out to pitch that inning’s bottom half and retired all three batters in order. His first time through a major league lineup was perfect.
The bottom of the fourth was a little different, though. Rusin gave up his first baserunner when he plunked Norichika Aoki with a 1-1 fastball. He issued his first walk, a four-pitch walk to reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun. He gave up his first hit when Corey Hart glanced a bases-loaded one-hopper off Rusin’s foot.
That infield single also scored a run, the first charged to Rusin in his career. Rusin then induced his first double play, a 6-4-3 job to get out of that inning without giving up another first (or second, or third or fourth) of something.
Rusin pitched a relatively clean fifth inning, walking Jean Segura with one out, but that was it. Rusin got out of the inning with an Aoki groundout and strode back to the visitors’ dugout. He did not stride back out.
He had thrown 76 major league pitches in five innings, and he had only given up one hit and one run. Cubs manager Dale Sveum went to the bullpen for the sixth inning.
Trying to understand the enormity of all of those moments to Rusin is difficult. He’s 25, and he like any other baseball player has spent his entire baseball-playing life with the fantasy of reaching that moment. From tee ball on, that’s the goal. On Tuesday Rusin became the 17,892nd person to play in a major league game. Of all the men that have lived on Earth since professional baseball became an institution in the 1860s and 1870s, that puts Rusin among a club more exclusive than we admit.
But thinking about Tuesday in the context of just one man’s life is flooring still. An entire life’s worth of work and pain and bus trips and sunflower seeds all built up to a singular event—making it to the show—and Rusin had finally made it. His first pitch, his first batter, his first inning all went so fast. From the instant he initiated his first windup to the instant a Braun fly ball landed in right fielder David DeJesus’ glove, five minutes and 0.7 seconds had elapsed. There it was, and there it went.
James Pennington is a sports journalist from Lexington. He covered Kentucky sports for the Kentucky Kernel, Kentucky’s student newspaper, from 2007 to 2010 and for CatsPause.com from 2010 to 2012.