'Javy makes so many things happen' vs. Reds

July 29th, 2020

Anthony Rizzo always has a message for Cubs shortstop at the start of each game. In a chat with reporters on Tuesday night, infielder David Bote smiled as he relayed the first baseman's motivational mantra.

"'Do that thing that everybody loves,'" Bote said. "That's just what it is. You just love watching him play."

On Tuesday, Báez did all the things that Cubs fans love in an 8-5 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park. He launched a pair of home runs, he scored with the type of slide that led to his El Mago moniker and he made an extremely difficult defensive play look easy.

It was an all-around showing that helped Chicago improve to a National League Central-leading 4-1, in a year when every win carries so much weight. Báez's performance was the type that -- should it be foreshadowing a hot streak -- could be critical for the Cubs.

"When Javy plays well," Cubs manager David Ross said, "it's infectious for the team."

Here are the ways Báez helped beat the Reds on Tuesday night.

Going deep, twice

Báez headed into Tuesday's game mired in a 3-for-17 dry spell in the batter's box. That's hardly alarming four games into a season, but it was on the shortstop's mind.

"I was out of it," Báez said. "I was kind of a little cold, but working."

In the seventh inning, the Cubs held a 4-2 lead against the Reds, who had lefty Amir Garrett on the mound. Garrett misfired with three sliders, slipping into a 3-0 count against Báez. That is an automatic take count for many batters. Not Javy.

"I just get more aggressive," Báez said. "I usually swing hard. I don't like wasting that pitch."

Garrett turned to his two-seamer, which leaked over the plate just enough for Báez to get the barrel on the baseball. Báez shot the pitch the opposite way and it dropped just out of the reach of right fielder Nick Castellanos and over the wall.

A year ago, Báez was tied for second in the Majors with 14 opposite-field homers. This one marked his first homer of the 2020 season.

In the ninth, Báez outdid himself, driving a full-count offering from Michael Lorenzen to center with an exit velocity of 105.1 mph, per Statcast. That two-run blast gave Chicago an 8-3 advantage.

"It's incredible," Bote said.

A go-ahead slide

A cult hero in a Cubs uniform last season, Castellanos took on the role of villain Tuesday with a game-tying, two-run homer off in the fourth. In the top of the fifth inning, Báez put Chicago back on top for good with his bat, legs and creativity.

"Javy makes so many things happen," Ross said.

First, Báez sent a 1-0 pitch from Cody Reed rocketing off his bat at 107.2 mph -- the hardest-hit ball of the game. The deep drive one-hopped the wall in center for a double. then poked an 0-2 pitch into left field for a single, opening the door for a vintage El Mago moment.

With the soft liner in front of him, Báez read the play and hustled around third base, hitting a sprint speed of 29.6 feet per second, per Statcast. Left fielder Aristides Aquino gloved the ball and fired it to catcher Curt Casali, who lunged to his left to apply the tag.

Báez was already sliding head first, reaching for the edge of the plate with his left hand. He shifted to his hands and looked up at home-plate umpire Larry Vanover, who threw his arms out at his sides to signal that Báez was safe. That gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead.

"He plans things out ahead of time," Bote said. "And then makes it look easy on the field. I think that's part of it, his anticipation is off the charts, you know?"

The slick snag at short

When Statcast unveiled its Outs Above Average metric last year, it should have surprised no one that Báez led all MLB infielders with 19. The days of thinking he is best served staying at second base are long gone.

In the fifth inning against the Reds, Báez made a difficult play look routine.

"Oh my goodness, yeah," said Mills, who induced 10 ground-ball outs in his six strong innings of work.

With two outs, Casali sent a sharp grounder deep into the hole between shortstop and third base. Báez quickly ranged to his right, sliding across the grass in shallow left field and snaring the baseball with a back-handed grab. In one smooth motion, the shortstop popped to his feet and fired an 83.1 mph strike to Rizzo at first.

"He caught it on a slide, stood up, took his time and then fired a bullet over there," Mills said. "Turning around and seeing that is always comforting, seeing him there. He makes everything look easy. I'll take it every time."

It was just another one of those things that Cubs fans love.