CHICAGO -- One aspect of Nico Hoerner's game that is undeniably polished is his defense. Even in a limited role during the abbreviated 2020 season, he was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at second base.
In the eighth inning of the Cubs' 6-0 loss to the Brewers on Sunday afternoon, Hoerner showed off not only his defensive prowess, but his baseball IQ in starting a sly double play. It had the makings of a crucial play in what was a tightly contested game at the moment.
"That was a total group effort," Hoerner said.
Hoerner made it clear that shortstop Javier Báez had a supporting role in the play.
"That does not happen if he's not yelling in my ear," Hoerner said with a laugh.
With Omar Narváez on first base for the Brewers and Chicago trailing, 1-0, Avisaíl García popped an Alec Mills pitch up high over the infield. Hoerner settled under the ball, and Báez -- with an eye on García breaking slowly out of the batter's box -- began hollering.
"Javy's screaming at him, 'He's not running! He's not running!'" Cubs manager David Ross said. "I think it's great communication between the middle infielders. Awareness."
With Báez's shouts ringing in his ears, Hoerner opted against making the catch and let the ball drop to the grass.
"Popups, especially on a day like this at Wrigley, your head is definitely on the ball and not on the runner," said Hoerner, who also made a nifty sliding stop in the second inning. "So, yeah, great communication."
Hoerner quickly plucked the ball from the grass and fired it to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to nab García. Meanwhile, Narváez was caught in between first and second and soon found himself in a rundown.
The ball changed hands a few times as Narváez tried to escape the jam. In the end, it was Hoerner who made the decisive catch and tag to finish the unique double play.
"It's a heads-up play," Rizzo said. "For him to see it and just read it and kind of slow the game down there is big."
Maybe it was Hoerner's Stanford education kicking in.
"He's such a smart baseball player," Ross said. "His IQ is extremely high. You love that type of stuff. It's just the extra, that baseball mentality. And having that and the communication between the middle infielders, that's one that really makes you smile."
Hoerner did not disagree with that last sentiment.
"That was fun," said the second baseman.