The Cubs' Carlos Zambrano picks up Tony Campana after Campana hit an inside-the-park home run Friday. | AP photo
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:22AM
Players such as Tony Campana are the reason baseball is always worth watching — even in a dreadful season, even on a losing team.
With one swing Friday and one race around the bases, the Cubs’ diminutive outfielder made history with his first career home run, an inside-the-park job.
The drive down the left-field line ricocheted off the side wall beyond the reach of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yonder Alonso. The ball skipped behind him to the outfield wall as Campana rounded second and then third. Starlin Castro was at home to greet Campana after scoring from first.
The crowd of 42,245 — the second-largest of the season, surpassing all three games against the New York Yankees — couldn’t have anticipated that show, even though manager Mike Quade did — sort of.
Quade joked before the game about Campana’s chances of joining the sudden home-run barrage that has accompanied the Cubs’ winning streak, now at six with the 4-3 victory. Campana’s homer was the 12th in the last four games for the suddenly surging Cubs.
‘‘As soon as it happened [in the first inning off Mike Leake], I looked at [bench coach] Pat [Listach] and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ ’’ Quade said, remembering his pregame comments.
‘‘What a day he had. If he can handle the bat and do the little things, that speed is unbelievable.’’
Everything about the ever-smiling 5-8, 165-pound outfielder is.
A survivor of childhood cancer, he’s accustomed to beating the odds.
‘‘They used to tease me in Double-A that the only way I’d ever hit a homer was inside the park,’’ Campana said.
Campana did hit an inside-the-park homer at Class AA West Tenn, and he hit one out of the park in college.
''Aluminum bats help,’’ he said with a smile.
Campana might not hit another homer, but the one he hit Friday made history.
It was the Cubs’ first inside-the-park homer since May 19, 2008, when Geovany Soto hit one in Houston, and it was the first at Wrigley Field by a Cub since Sammy Sosa used speed instead of muscle to touch four bases on Oct. 6, 2001, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Campana is the first major-leaguer to have his first career homer be an inside-the-parker since the Florida Marlins’ Emilio Bonifacio did it April 6, 2009, against the Washington Nationals, and he’s the first Cub to do it since Carmen Mauro on Oct. 3, 1948, in St. Louis.
But he’s the first Cub to have his first career homer be an inside-the-parker at Wrigley.
‘‘The first thing I thought was the third baseman will catch it,’’ Campana said. ‘‘When it got by him, I thought double. Then I thought, ‘I’ve got a chance [to score].’ I was afraid I’d catch Starlin.’’
Campana’s day wasn’t only about the first inning.
He was a triple shy of the cycle with a seventh-inning double and eighth-inning single. He nearly made a diving catch in the fourth on Leake’s sinking fly — ‘‘It was in my glove. I blame my glove’’ — but he did make a game-saving catch at the wall in the seventh on Brandon Phillips’ drive, drawing a standing ovation.
‘‘[Campana would] beat me in a footrace running backward,’’ starter Ryan Dempster (9-8) said. ‘‘We had a gentlemen’s bet on who would hit the first triple, so I’m still in.’’
How fast is Campana?
‘‘I go 3.4 [seconds] to first, according to [first-base coach] Bob Dernier,’’ Campana said.
Even before his heroics, Campana’s speed was becoming a matter of baseball lore.
‘‘I know Nyjer Morgan [of the Milwaukee Brewers] wants to race him, and I’ve got money on that for laughs,’’ Quade said.
Ever up for a challenge, Campana would be happy to take on his rivals in a race.
‘‘I think it would be a fun thing to do,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d love to do it. We thought about other things they could do at the All-Star Game. . . .
‘‘Today was fun. Every time I get a chance to play, I try to make things exciting, and I think I did today.’’