Baseball’s long history has allowed ample chance for wackiness. It is, after all, a game in which the coaches wear the same outfits as the players, the activity runs invisibly and stealing isn’t only legal, it’s encouraged.
Few moments in the sport, however, could top one that occurred in the top of the third inning on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez, 28, once again proved his nickname, El Mago (The Magician in Spanish), is a fitting one. Along with the Pirates, using a string of head-scratching miscues, enabled one of the zaniest plays in baseball history, leaving fans in disbelief even after multiple replays.
Just Javy disappears more on the basepaths than anyone Ive seen, Cubs Manager David Ross, who played in parts of 15 major league seasons, said after his teams 5-3 win. “He just creates havoc, man. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life with as many matches I’ve been able to become a part of. ”
With two outs in the inning, Baez hit a ground ball to Pirates third baseman Erik Gonzalez. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who was on second base after a single and a stolen base, ran toward third. But that shouldn’t have mattered because, with only one more out needed to end the threat, Gonzalez threw the ball across the diamond to first baseman Will Craig.
But when Gonzalez’s throw went off line, Craig stepped in front of the base to grab this, and Baez, instead of continuing to run, ceased. He began retreating toward home, baiting Craig to follow him. Craig, who could have just touched first base and finished the inning, fell for it, nonchalantly chasing Baez.
Meanwhile, Contreras kept running toward home. Craig flipped the ball to catcher Michael Perez, but Contreras’s hand touched home plate before Perez could label him.
Watching nearby, Baez signaled safe in addition to the home plate umpire, Ryan Additon, then quickly realized he had to get to first base in order for Contreras’s attempts not to be in vain. (Runs in such situations don’t count if they come on a force out that finishes a half-inning.) Luckily for the Cubs, and disgracefully for the Pirates, nobody was covering first base.
Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier raced over too late. Perez tried to get the ball to Frazier while he was running, but the throw went behind him and into the outfield. Baez, who had safely slid head first into first base, popped back on this feet upon seeing Perez’s toss go astray, then hurried and slid safely into second.
(The official box score’s description had Baez reaching first on a fielder’s choice and second on a throwing error.)
Its easy to say from the outside that thats the easy thing to do, but when youre in the heat of it, he starts moving around, you dont know whats happening, it can accelerate on you kind of quick, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of Craigs not stepping on first base, before referring to Baez: Thats what he does by placing pressure on the opposite team. ”
Baez ended up on scoring on a single by Ian Happ for a 3-0 Cubs lead.
Having goaded a competition into miscues, Baez grinned about the play after the game. I never had that in my plans, he said during a video call with reporters. He added later about all of his running, “I was just very tired. ”
Watching in the dugout during the drama, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo laughed so hard when hanging over the railing that it appeared that he would fall over it. Baez said his teammates celebrated like he had smacked a double.
The dugout was just losing it, the identical response you guys probably had and everybody needed, Hendricks said. “Couldn’t believe what they just saw with their eyes. ”
Ross said of Baez: “He has this way about him. You may call it swag or baseball I.Q.. He plays the game like a child. That’s why plenty of people fall in love with him. ”
After the game, Pirates Manager Derek Shelton blamed himself for his team ’s poor basic play and lack of understanding of the basic principles of the game.
The tote hasnt moved in 140 years, he told reporters. “Our guys have to understand the rules. This ’s my fault. ”
Pirates pitcher Tyler Anderson said the whole team ought to be blamed, not only Craig, a rookie playing in his 15th major league game.
There should have been eight people on the field yelling, Just go step on first, he said.