Breaking down this Cubs star's electric play
This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
As Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris chatted inside the visitors’ clubhouse at American Family Field earlier this week, the song “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys began to blare in the background.
"Cause you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop!”
Those lyrics were fitting, because the topic at hand was Harris’ aggressive decision to send Seiya Suzuki to the plate for an electric inside-the-park home run against Josh Hader and the Brewers on the Fourth of July. After that game, Suzuki quipped, via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita, that he kept waiting for Harris to stop him.
“I talked to him this morning on the bus,” Harris said. “He says, ‘Willie, I'm a little tight.' I said, 'I don't care. If you do it again, we're rolling again.’ We're having some fun with it.”
In the ninth inning on Monday, the Brewers brought in Hader with the game caught in a 1-1 deadlock. With one out, Suzuki sent a Hader pitch rocketing to deep center field with an exit velocity of 109.9 mph, per Statcast. As the Cubs outfielder dropped his bat and began his sprint, Harris was up the third-base line, factoring in a few things as the play unfolded.
First, did Suzuki run hard immediately out of the box?
“Check,” Harris said.
Next, Harris considered that scoring chances against Hader are rare, so being aggressive was appropriate.
“Check,” Harris repeated. “I thought it was a great chance to take a chance.”
The baseball caromed off a section of wall that was angled, leading to the ball shooting back along the warning track and past center fielder Jonathan Davis. Right fielder Andrew McCutchen was too far from the play, forcing Davis to hurriedly chase down the roller. Once Suzuki was halfway between second and third base, Harris began pinwheeling his right arm for the send.
“I saw the ball off the wall, and I saw him running after it, and I'm like, 'Here we go,’” Harris said. “What’s going through my mind is, 'Lord, please be safe. Please be safe.' Because it doesn't look good with one out. If he's out at home plate, I look like an idiot.”
During his playing days, Harris also recorded an inside-the-park home run on Sept. 24, 2010, against the Braves. He remembers having a similar thought as Suzuki. Harris was waiting for his Nationals third-base coach, Pat Listach, to stop him. Harris said he knows what it feels like to have “that piano on your back” while rounding third.
“I was a little faster than Seiya,” Harris quipped. “I was thinking the same thing as Seiya, ‘Somebody stop me,’ but you have to run, run, run until your third-base coach holds you up. I was happy for him. That's a weird home run to hit, but it still goes into the books as a homer.”