CHICAGO -- On a stage that so often produces surprising October stars, Javier Báez nudged his way into the postseason spotlight in the Cubs' National League Division Series win over the Giants, and he now seems to have planted himself there after another standout night in Game 1 of the
CHICAGO -- On a stage that so often produces surprising October stars, Javier Báez nudged his way into the postseason spotlight in the Cubs' National League Division Series win over the Giants, and he now seems to have planted himself there after another standout night in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday.
Though unable to come through in a key eighth-inning spot, Baez provided an early spark in the Cubs' 8-4 win over the Dodgers by becoming the franchise's first player to steal home in a postseason game since Jimmy Slagle in Game 4 of the 1907 World Series.
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Baez's hustle home in the second, which built a 3-0 lead, was the 20th steal of home in postseason history and the first since Texas' Elvis Andrus did so in Game 2 of the 2010 American League Championship Series against the Yankees.
"It's something I didn't plan," Baez conceded afterward. "But I got it."
The unusual occurrence may have well been a baserunning blunder had he not had the speed to recover. With Baez on third and one out, manager Joe Maddon signaled for a safety squeeze. Starter Jon Lester didn't offer at the outside pitch, yet Baez kept creeping down the third-base line.
Dodgers catcher Carlos Ruiz fired a throw to third baseman Justin Turner, at which time Baez had to make a split-second decision. He committed to going home.
"I went a little bit too early," Baez said. "But I saw him ready to throw the ball, and I didn't want to get in a rundown, so I just kept going home."
Ruiz's throw was a bit off target, which slowed down Turner's return throw back home. Baez, with his hands on his helmet, anticipating he might get hit by the ball, slid in safely ahead of the throw.
"I should have made a better throw right there and we could have gotten him at home plate," Ruiz said. "It happened quickly. That's instinct right there."
According to Statcast™, Baez topped out at 19.6 mph as he raced home. Ruiz's throw to third registered at 77.4 mph, while Turner's hit 65.9 mph.
"Give Javy credit for what he did," Maddon said. "One percent or less of all Major League players would have done what he did. Honestly. He's just that good on the bases. Sometimes he's going to look bad because he's going to make what appears to be a mental mistake. But he had that all plotted out. That's purely good baseball instinct by a kid that's a baseball player."
It may seem inconceivable given his October impact, but Baez, 23, spent the regular season without a defined role. He played 25 games at three different infield spots, yet totaled a modest 97 starts because his team boasted such depth.
But Baez has emerged as a priority player this month. He has started all of the Cubs' postseason games and has his fingerprints all over them.
Baez bookended the NLDS with game-winning hits -- a home run in Game 1 and a ninth-inning single in Game 4. In Game 2 of the NLDS, his instincts helped him score from second on a Kyle Hendricks single. Then there are the defensive gems, which suggest that Baez will soon be a Gold Glove winner.
"Javy may be one of the most exciting players in the game right now," teammate David Ross said. "This guy constantly elevates his game to the environment of what's going on. This guy is a special player, and it's fun to see what he's going to do."
On Saturday, Baez showcased his speed even before his mad dash home. After Jason Heyward opened the second with a triple off Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Baez poked a two-strike pitch to shallow left-center field. With the Dodgers' infield drawn in, nobody could get there.
Heyward trotted in from third, and Baez raced into second with his seventh hit of the postseason. According to Statcast™, balls hit similarly to Baez's resulted in a .111 average. Baez hit a max speed of 21.7 mph and recorded his fastest first-to-second time (3.54 seconds) on a double this season.
He then advanced to third on a wild pitch, putting him in position to race home when he saw the opening.
"You never want to coach instinct or aggressiveness out of a baseball player," Maddon said. "It's the worst thing you could possibly do."
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.