LaTroy Hawkins gives it up again, but this time I like it

Like any Cubs fan of a certain age, my memories of LaTroy Hawkins aren’t good ones. It dates back to a Saturday afternoon in 2004, when the Dusty Baker era went irretrievablybad.

Maybe I’m opening old wounds here, but the Cubs of 2004 were in playoff contention with a week to go in the regular season. They were at 20 games above .500, and were fighting with the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants for the one Wildcard spot in the National League. But the Cubs had the inside track, and the nucleus of the 2003 team was still around. 2004 was as Next Year as Next Year was ever going to get.

Joe Borowski had flamed out as the Cubs closer by early June, and LaTroy Hawkins had taken over as the closer. He had been the setup man for the Minnesota Twins, but stepped into the ninth inning slot for the Cubs and had picked up 25 saves. He was called in to finish up the game after Ryan Dempster walked two men on in the ninth inning, as the Cubs were holding a 3-0 lead for Mark Prior. So this is clearly a long time ago.

Hawkins had runners at the corners with two outs, and a little-used rookie catcher named Victor Diaz at the plate. Diaz was a product of Clemente High School in Chicago, and had entered the game as part of a late-inning double switch by Mets manager Art Howe. Hawkins got ahead in the count at 1-2, and only needed to throw a strike to nail down another save.

But that strike never came, as Diaz hit a three run homer that tied the game and sent the Cubs into a tailspin that didn’t end until after Dusty Baker left town. The Cubs limped home for the rest of the season, and the Astros won all their games in the last week of the season to claim the wild card spot.

LaTroy Hawkins had signed a two-year deal with the Cubs, though, and he was back for the 2005 season, in a way that Sammy Sosa was not. Hawkins had a knack for giving up leads that year, and May 6th was the final straw.

With the bases loaded and one out in a game against the Phillies at Wrigley, Placido Polanco smoked a ball up the middle that Hawkins caught for the second out. He then threw over to first for a game-ending double play, but his throw bounced off the helmet of a sliding Jose Offerman, and the tying and winning runs came into score as a result. Hawkins was traded to San Francisco before the month was over.

I’m glad to see that Hawkins has been able to keep playing to the ripe old age of 42. It’s nothing less than remarkable, really, in a game that treasures youth as highly as baseball does. But when he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday by serving up a two-out gopherball to Dexter Fowler, it reminded me of Victor Diaz and how hard the 2004 season ended, and all of the struggles that followed after it.

The Cubs’ unexpected win on Sunday didn’t even the scales, necessarily, but hopefully it will set one of Dusty Baker’s many predecessors in the Cubs dugout on an upward trajectory. And if it does, we’ll be grateful to LaTroy Hawkins, for a change.

R. Lincoln Harris is a guest contributor for Wrigleyville Nation. He also writes for BlueBattingHelmet.Wordpress.com, ChicagoSideSports.com, ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com, and FiveWideSports.com. Thanks R. Lincoln for the contribution!

Photo: Hawkins allows Fowler’s 2-run… / @MiamiBestOf / CC BY 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped