And so it ends.
The first season of the partnership between the Chicago Cubs and Kane County Cougars didn’t go the way anyone wanted it to, but the Cougars go home for the winter as winners with Monday’s 5-4 decision over Peoria in the regular-season finale.
The Cougars ended up taking two of three from the Chiefs, but finished the year with a 55-80 record, the worst in franchise history.
Cubs right-hander Scott Baker, making his sixth rehab start for the Cougars, shook off a first-inning, two-run homer by Nick Martini to get through 5 2/3 innings. He threw exactly 80 pitches in his outing — 57 for strikes — while allowing six hits and striking out four.
“At this point I just have to make pitches right from the beginning,” Baker said. “For just some reason it isn’t happening right from the (start of the game). That’s something I need to address.
“It’s the only way to get it done is to do it right from the beginning.”
In his final three starts with the Cougars, covering 14 2/3 innings, Baker allowed three runs and 11 hits, good for an ERA of 1.84. With the minor league regular season over, he hopes to rejoin the Cubs as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
“He knows his body better than anyone, and he gets off to a start where he pushes the ball a little bit and then he starts letting it go,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “That’s just part of the process of his recovery. It’s going to come.”
The Cougars led 4-2 heading into the top of the ninth before Jose Arias allowed the first two hitters to reach, then the Chiefs plated those two off of Michael Hamann (3-4) to tie the game.
The Cougars responded by loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth and Giuseppe Papaccio drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in Marco Hernandez with the game-winner.
It was the Cougars’ 10th walk-off win of the season, helping them finish with a 32-35 mark at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
“It’s always good to send the season off on a good note,” Johnson said. “Going into the offseason feeling good about yourself is always nice.”