The 2012 Cubs were a terrible baseball team, losing 101 games.
This was by design by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, deliberately “tanking” to get better draft picks. This particular tanking year worked very well, as the Cubs picked Kris Bryant with the second overall pick the following summer.
But it was painful to watch at times, and after the Cubs had a 15-10 July, they lost and lost and lost and entering a game against the Reds Thursday, September 20 at Wrigley Field, they had gone 15-32. Sound like 2021? Maybe, except in 2021 watching guys like Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel was actually fun. 2012? Not so much.
Starting the game for the Cubs that 2012 afternoon was Jason Berken.
And I know, you’re saying “Who?”
Berken was the Orioles’ sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2006 and he’d pitched parts of four seasons for Baltimore from 2009-12, and not with very good results. Theo was looking for guys who could fill out the rotation, just eat up some innings, in September 2012 and so on September 7, he claimed Berken on waivers.
Berken started a game September 15 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and allowed six runs (two earned) in four innings.
Thus five days later he was slated for his Wrigley debut against the Reds, who would go on to win the NL Central that year. The Cubs, meanwhile, entered the day 31 games out of first place.
It was Berken’s day to shine and also enter the record books. He began the second inning by striking out Denis Phipps (yeah, I know, another “Who?” He played in just eight MLB games). Then he struck out Ryan Hanigan, but threw a wild pitch allowing Hanigan to reach base. Berken wrapped up the inning by striking out Didi Gregorius (there, you’ve heard of that guy!) and Johnny Cueto to become the fifth Cubs pitcher to accomplish that feat (six, counting Orval Overall in the 1908 World Series). The others: Jim Davis (1956), Bill Bonham (1974), Kerry Wood (2002) and Ryan Dempster (2009). Since Berken’s feat, Justin Grimm also did it as a Cub in 2014.
Berken went on to have the best start of his career. He held a very good Reds team scoreless for six innings, allowing just two hits and two walks, striking out five. He was removed after six having thrown 86 pitches (54 strikes). The game was a scoreless tie at that point.
You just know this isn’t going to have a happy ending, right?
Manny Corpas relieved Berken and got torched for five runs in the seventh. The Cubs did manage three runs, including a home run by Welington Castillo and two RBI from Anthony Rizzo, and had the tying run at the plate with one out in the ninth, but fell short, losing the game 5-3.
As for Berken, he went to spring training with the Cubs in 2013 but was released about a week before the regular season began. He spent four more years in the minor leagues in the White Sox, Giants, Phillies and Blue Jays organizations but never pitched in the major leagues after 2012.
He’ll always have this game, and that inning, to remember forever. It happened 10 years ago today, Thursday, September 20, 2012.