WASHINGTON -- Javier Baez flew, hit, ran, struck out, slid, and dazzled on Monday night.Starting at shortstop in place of injured Addison Russell, Baez added to his personal highlight reel with two defensive gems, and the Cubs needed all of his acrobatics to preserve a 5-4 victory over the Nationals.Baez
WASHINGTON -- Javier Baez flew, hit, ran, struck out, slid, and dazzled on Monday night.
Starting at shortstop in place of injured Addison Russell, Baez added to his personal highlight reel with two defensive gems, and the Cubs needed all of his acrobatics to preserve a 5-4 victory over the Nationals.
Baez made a leaping catch in the third to snare Bryce Harper's 110-mph liner in the air. The ball appeared to be headed for the gap, but Baez ranged to his right and grabbed the ball that had a hit probability of 68 percent, according to Statcast™.
"He's a stud," Harper said of Baez. "One of the best in the league at what he does in his craft. One of the best gloves, quickest hands, lot of fun to watch him play and see how he's progressed as a player. What a stud he is."
• Cut4: Harper not pleased with Baez's robbery
Both the hit probability and exit velocity were tied for the third highest for an out on any ball Harper has hit this year. The Major League average on batted balls of at least 110 mph this year was .765 entering Monday, but the play ended the third.
"I didn't know the velo, but I knew it was really hard," Baez said. "I'm actually pretty good at reading the ball off the bat. It was well hit."
Baez wasn't finished. In the Nationals' eighth, pinch-hitter Adam Lind lofted a ball toward foul territory in left. That didn't stop Baez, who raced after the ball and grabbed it just before sliding into the padded wall. According to Statcast™, Baez covered 132 feet to make the catch. He got a few pats from Cubs fans in the crowd.
"That popup was stupid good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He went so far. Did you see the peek? He gave the peek and knew exactly where he was. I don't know who else makes that play. I know our guy Addy is really good, but [Baez] did everything so perfectly on that -- the glance at the wall, the slide, the catch, everything."
How good is Baez? Some fans groaned when he didn't catch Brian Goodwin's soft liner to left one out later.
"When the ball was coming down, I was worried about the wall," Baez said. "I saw the ball at the last second, and it just went in my glove. I don't know how I caught it. I just ran hard over there and never gave up."
The 132 feet covered is the longest distance by a shortstop on a putout since Statcast™ began in 2015. The previous high was 129 feet by Manny Machado on April 8, 2016.
Baez wasn't all glove. He struck out in his first three at-bats, but in the eighth, Baez singled to extend his hitting streak to a career-high eight games. He was called out at second on Jeimer Candelario's grounder, but after a review, the call was overturned and Baez and Candelario were safe. Baez then stole third and scored on Almora's bunt single for 2-0 lead.
In the ninth, Baez added an RBI double, and prompted the Cubs fans in the crowd to chant, "Javy, Javy, Javy."
How did he go from three strikeouts to two big hits?
"A lot of guys with three punches, they don't do that stuff," Maddon said. "Their night is messed up -- 'I'll come back tomorrow and have a better game tomorrow.' He has a Teflon finish about him. He's really able to move along to the next moment, it doesn't stick, whether it's a play on defense or a punchout.
"For me, he's the epitome of staying in the moment," Maddon said. "Sometimes he can get a little carried away with his swing. The beauty of him is it doesn't stick."
How does Baez do it?
"You play 27 outs," Baez said. "After the first [at-bat], I thought it was a good [at-bat], and the pitch he struck me out on was a good pitch. It could've gone both ways. The other two, he just got me. Obviously, the last two [at-bats], I didn't give up. I came back to the plate with the same plan."
Just Javy being Javy.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.