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Cubs unsung heroes: Billy Petrick, June 29, 2007

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His performance was key in a big comeback win.

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This is a Very Important Game in recent Cubs history. I have written about this game previously, in a Cubs history series in 2014 and in an article just last month about Cubs walkoff home runs.

If I still haven’t jogged your memory, Aramis Ramirez won this game with a two-run walkoff homer after the Cubs went down 5-0 in the first inning to the Brewers. It capped what turned out to be a 17-11 month, part of a great Cubs run of 34-20 through June and July that eventually wound up giving them the N.L. Central title in 2007.

I mentioned that five-run first inning. All five runs were off Rich Hill, but manager Lou Piniella had run through a fair amount of his bullpen in a sweep of the Rockies earlier that week and he didn’t want to have to yank Hill in the first, so Lou let Hill stay in the game for two more innings. They weren’t much better — Hill allowed two hits and a walk in the second and third — but no runs scored, and when Hill’s turn to bat came up in the last of the third, that’s when he was removed for a pinch-hitter.

The new pitcher to start the fourth inning was Billy Petrick, who had been the Cubs’ third-round pick in 2002 out of Morris High School in downstate Illinois. He’d become a pretty good prospect, though at the time of his callup he had not pitched above Double-A. At Tennessee, he’d posted a 2.37 ERA and 0.989 WHIP with 33 strikeouts and only eight walks in 30⅓ innings. At 6-6, 240, the 23-year-old seemed as if he’d be a mainstay in the Cubs bullpen for years to come.

This game was his second big-league appearance. The Rockies had knocked him around a bit in his debut two days earlier. But on this Friday afternoon, Petrick allowed a single to the first batter he faced (Corey Hart), then strung together six straight outs, two by strikeout, one of the K’s resulting in Hart being caught stealing. Two of the hitters retired were Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, not too shabby a day’s work. Here’s Petrick striking out Bill Hall in the fourth [VIDEO].

Three other Cubs relievers (Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry) also held the Brewers scoreless, setting the table for the win. But Petrick’s solid two innings helped set the tone for the rest of the relief corps that day.

Petrick made six more appearances for the Cubs in July 2007, but after he gave up four runs in the sixth inning of an 11-1 blowout loss to the Cardinals July 26 (including a monstrous three-run homer by Albert Pujols), he was sent to Triple-A Iowa and never pitched in the majors again.

I asked Josh Timmers, our expert in the Cubs system, what happened to Petrick and here’s what he told me:

Same reason as every pitcher. He got injured. Shoulder problems.

He tore his labrum in 2005. He recovered enough to make the majors in 2007, as you remember, and pitched pretty well except for that final appearance that got him sent back down and he finished the year in Iowa. I think (stress think) that he tried to pitch through shoulder problems in Iowa after he was sent back down. Baseball America said he “ran out of gas” in 2007 but I’m guessing that was code for him having shoulder problems. The Cubs and Petrick probably kept that quiet.

He got a late start to the 2008 season and only made eight appearances in Daytona, which I assume was a rehab assignment because he’d pitched for Tennessee, Iowa and the Cubs the year before. No reason to send him to Advanced-A if he were healthy. But they shut him down at the end of May. The Cubs took him off the 40-man at the end of the 2008 season and that made him a minor league free agent after seven years in the minors. No one was interested in signing him, but he pitched five non-consecutive years in indy ball before hanging it up after the 2015 season.

Fun fact: Billy Petrick is about four months younger than Jon Lester. He just turned 36 last week.