Jason Heyward's first season with the Cubs has not gone smoothly in terms of production at the plate. But in Tuesday night's Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Heyward's legs helped him create the series-clinching run -- as shown by Statcast™ -- as the Cubs rallied to beat the Giants, 6-5.
By the time Heyward stepped in against the Giants' Will Smith in the top of the ninth inning, his team already had scored three runs to jump into a 5-5 tie. With Willson Contreras on first and no outs, Heyward squared around on the first pitch and tried to lay down what would have been only his third career sacrifice bunt.
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Unfortunately for the Cubs, Heyward's inexperience showed, as his bunt (measured at 33 mph off the bat) skipped right back to Smith. But with that part of the play now out of his control, Heyward did the only thing he could -- run hard. Coming out of the left-handed batter's box, he charged down the line in 4.12 seconds, a new personal best for the Statcast™ era, by a margin of 0.05 seconds.
"Until the last out is made, you owe it to the game and the guys next to you to keep going and keep pushing," Heyward said of his team's comback.
It was an effort that paid off in a big way for the NL Central-champion Cubs, who now head back to the NL Championship Series for the second straight year, starting Saturday on FS1 (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT) against either the Dodgers or Nationals at Wrigley Field.
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The play started smoothly for the Giants defense. Despite the trouble pitchers sometimes face in throwing to bases, Smith fielded the bunt cleanly and fired an accurate, chest-high throw to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was covering second.
With Contreras taking a minimal secondary lead of 10.3 feet and going from first to second in 3.7 seconds, he was in no position to break up the play or even put pressure on Crawford, who had a clear throwing lane after the forceout.
Still, with Heyward hustling down the line, time was of the essence for Crawford. He has one of the game's strongest arms, ranking fifth among shortstops by averaging 86.8 mph this year on competitive throws, but Heyward's speed forced him to rush, and he made the glove-to-release exchange in just 0.467 seconds, much faster than his average of 0.646 seconds on successful 1-6-3 double plays this season.
After that rushed exchange, Crawford's throw sailed well up the line and past first baseman Brandon Belt. While Heyward, whose speed topped out at 20.2 mph according to Statcast™, almost certainly would have beaten even an accurate throw, Crawford's wild heave allowed Heyward to advance to second. It was the second throwing error of the game for Crawford, a 2015 NL Gold Glove Award winner whose fifth-inning miscue set up a Cubs run.
This one had the same effect, as Javier Báez followed with a single off Hunter Strickland, and Heyward carried home the go-ahead run. Aroldis Chapman closed the door on the game and the series in the bottom of the frame.
"With the way the ball bounced that last inning, I hate to use the word destiny, but they have had a great year, and that's quite a comeback they mounted there," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "They got a break there on the throwing error that set up the winning run."
Minus the bad throw, Heyward, representing the go-ahead run, would have been on first instead of second with one out. Baez (RBI single) and David Ross (inning-ending double play) batted next, and it's impossible to know exactly how their at-bats would've played out in that scenario.