If you know the name Mike Bacsik, you probably only know it because he allowed Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 756th home run in 2007.
I remember where I was when Bonds’ hit his record*
* = tainted
home run. I was sitting in my apartment in Atlanta, where I spent that summer as an intern with Braves.com.
Bacsik was pitching then for the Washington Nationals. Now, he’s with the Fort Worth Cats, who are in Wichita playing a four-game series with the Wingnuts. Bacsik, last I checked, is scheduled to pitch at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Thursday.
I’ve been telling people I wanted to talk to Bacsik so I can ask him about his claim to fame. I told him the same thing today, too, and he gave me a cursory, ‘OK.’ Then I told him, to me, he is not most remembered for serving up Bonds’s 756th, but for pitching in one of baseball’s most improbable comebacks ever. For my Cleveland Indians, of course.
Bacsik made his major league debut on Aug. 5, 2001, watching Indians right-hander Dave Burba stink up the joint against the powerhouse Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games that year. Bacsik, just called up from Buffalo, came on with the bases loaded in the third inning and eventually allowed Seattle to take a 14-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh.
The Indians scored three in the seventh, four in the eighth and five in the ninth to tie it 14-14. Jolbert Cabrera drove in the winning run with a single that scored my favorite all-time player, Kenny Lofton, in the bottom of the 11th. That night was Bascik’s first taste of big-league baseball and I talked to him today about what he remembered from that game. Which should come as a relief to you, my reader, because I could go on for days about what I remember about it:
“Being as nervous, one of my most nervous moments of my life. Coming in with the bases loaded — I was a starter my whole minor-league career, then you come in with the bases loaded and you’re facing the best team in baseball at the time.
“As the inning went along, I remember the first batter was Mike Cameron. I got up early in the count, I got ahead of him, then he worked it to a full count. I thought, ‘I can’t walk the first guy I ever face in the big leagues, I’ve got to throw a strike.’ I threw it down the middle — big mistake. Double off the wall.
“Then, I just remember the rest of that inning backing up bases. Backing up home and looking toward the bullpen and thinking, ‘Boy, they’ve got nobody warming up, I’m going back to (Triple-A) Buffalo pretty soon.’ I remember Dick Pole, the pitching coach, coming out and saying, ‘All right, all the excitement’s over.’ I’m thinking, ‘It ain’t over for me, I haven’t gotten anybody out yet.’
“Finally I get Ichiro to fly out. It was a sacrifice fly but I got somebody out. Once I got somebody out, it seemed to get better from there. It was just a really rough third inning and the place is packed and it’s your major league debut.
“As the game went along, they scored two in the fifth. I remember in that inning Edgar Martinez hit a routine double-play ball to Omar Vizquel, and he misses the ball. Out of all the time to have a double play ball that he’s going to boot one, and that extended that inning.’
“The game just went along from there. We took out as many players as we could, they took out as many players as they could to give guys rest. After that fifth inning, we just scored. I remembered it being 14-9 and I went out and pitched the eighth inning. And I was going to be pitching the ninth inning, too.”
I, naturally had to correct Bacsik on a few things because for whatever reason he hasn’t hung on every single pitch of every single Cleveland Indians game for the last 17 years like I have. The Indians trailed 14-11 with two outs in the 9th before Omar Vizquel tied it with a bases-loaded triple down the right-field line against Seattle closer Kaz Sasaki.
“Usually teams will play closer to the line. They decided not to, probably thinking Omar, out of all the things, he’s not going to roll one down the first-base line.
“I remember them telling me they were going to take me out. They got the thing somewhat close, and I think they were going to bring in Rocker to pitch the ninth. I pitched six innings, great, got to pitch in the big leagues, probably going back to Buffalo as soon as the game is over.
“Then I’m just sitting in the dugout. Usually pitchers will go in the locker room, do their exercises, ice and stay in the locker room. In fact, there were so many guys in the locker room. But I’m thinking to myself, ‘I may not be in the major leagues tomorrow.’ So I want to stay out and watch the rest of the game, be part of the game.
“When (Vizquel) hit that base hit down the line, I’m going nuts. Then when we win it I’m running out there and I can’t believe I’m part of this. I’m on the Cleveland Indians and I’m jumping up and down at home plate in my first game ever.
“It’s funny, when the game was over guys — Thome, Fryman, Ellis Burks, all the guys — ‘Congratulations, great job, way to go tonight.’ And I’m thinking, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been congratulated for giving up seven earned runs in six innings. Usually you don’t get too much praise for that.
“It was great. My wife came to watch the game. She flew up from Dallas. There was probably only 15,000 people left when we did those, but those 15,000 people were louder than the 40,000 that started the game. It was nuts.
“Jolbert Cabrera got the (game-winning) hit and I remember, I think (Eddie) Taubensee picked (Lofton) up. The cool thing was we went to Minnesota and they had tied us in the (American League Central) division. I got sent down, but from that point on Cleveland never gave up the lead and a lot of the veterans point to that game as the turning point, as when they kind of came together and took the division. It’s really cool that I was part of that.
“It was really nerve-wracking, but once the game really got out of hand it kind of calmed me down, because I’m in no situation to help us win a game. I’m just trying to eat up innings so our bullpen will be fresh for the next day.
“At my home, I have framed the scorecard that they gave me from that game and the front page of the newspaper in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer, of Taubensee lifting Lofton over his shoulder and all the guys running out.
“For me now, it seems a long time ago baseball-wise in my head. It turned from something really being bad to being one of the great moments of my little career in the major leagues.”
Bacsik was traded, with Roberto Alomar, to the Mets before 2002 season. Off the top of my head, the Indians received Billy Traber, Jerrod Riggan, Alex Escobar and Matt Lawton in that trade. Bacsik later moved onto the Rangers, then the Nationals, putting him in position to be part of history. He only pitched in 51 games in the majors, but he fit a lot of memorable moments into his short career.
“Weird, weird history. But fun.”