Baez pulls another magic act on bases, Cubs sweep Pirates
There's probably no point in trying to describe what Javy Baez pulled off on the base paths Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The play was probably the most shared and replayed event on social media for the rest of the afternoon.
The bottom line is, Baez used some unconventional baserunning to create 2 runs on a play that should have ended the third inning. That turned out to be the difference in the Cubs' 5-3 victory over the Pirates, completing a sweep of the three-game series.
"Only Javy disappears on the base paths more than any person I've seen," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It really is a magic act. He just creates havoc, man."
OK, here's the quick rundown: With two out and Willson Contreras on second, Baez grounded to third base. The throw pulled Pittsburgh first baseman Will Craig off the base. With Craig now standing in front of the bag, Baez decided to retreat toward home plate.
Craig followed Baez casually at first, then flipped the ball to the catcher as Contreras came sprinting toward the plate. Contreras slid in safe, Baez excitedly made the safe sign, then realized he still needed to run to first.
Arguably, this was more of a bonehead play by the Pirates than genius move by Baez. At any point during this ordeal, the Pirates could have just stepped on first base and the Contreras run wouldn't have counted. But by the time Baez turned around, no one was covering first. The throw was wild, Baez ended up on second base and then scored when Ian Happ followed with a bloop single to center.
"Honestly, we were talking in the dugout that you could take as long as you want and just go touch first base," said winning pitcher Kyle Hendricks. "But here's the thing: When you're out there on the field, he puts people in an uncomfortable position.
"That's just the pressure he puts on people. It's easy to say from the outside that's the easy thing to do. But when you're in the heat of it, he starts moving around, you don't know what's going on, it can speed up on you kind of quick. That's just what he does by putting pressure on the other team."
After the game on a Zoom call with reporters, Baez tried to explain his thought process, knowing there wasn't much logic to any of it.
"Actually, my first thought was to go head first, but the throw got there so early," Baez said. "I ran back and I was just trying to make Willy score, even though it was two outs. At the same time, I was keeping him (Craig) close to me, so he could chase me.
"I didn't plan it right when it happens. Never had that in my plans. But when it happens, I think my Plan A was when I called 'safe,' then I was reminded I had to go back to first. I was just pretty tired."
This was a play no one had really seen before in a major league game. Ross had an appropriate comparison for his shortstop.
"He plays the game like a kid, I think that's why a lot of people fall in love with him," Ross said. "He plays it like the kid in Little League that's better than everybody else and just keeps running and nobody can tag him."
Besides stealing a couple of runs, the Cubs also got solo homers from Kris Bryant and Patrick Wisdom. Hendricks pitched 7 innings and was cruising for the most part, but gave up 3 solo home runs, which trimmed the Cubs' 4-0 lead to 4-3 in the seventh. Bryant drove in an insurance run in the ninth when his grounder scored Eric Sogard.
The Cubs (27-22) have now won 10 of their last 13 games and pulled into a tie for first place in the NL Central, pending St. Louis' result in Arizona Thursday night.
As the Cubs prepared for their flight home to Chicago, Baez had a good idea of how he planned to spend his time on the bus and plane.
"I did see that a lot of people are tagging me on Twitter and everywhere," Baez said. "So I can't wait to get on it."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls