CHICAGO -- Hours before Kyle Hendricks delivered the first pitch in the Cubs' eventual 1-0 loss in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, manager Joe Maddon turned to analogies when asked to describe the remarkable instincts that have been on display by
CHICAGO -- Hours before Kyle Hendricks delivered the first pitch in the Cubs' eventual 1-0 loss in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, manager Joe Maddon turned to analogies when asked to describe the remarkable instincts that have been on display by 23-year-old infielder Javier Báez this postseason.
It's akin to Magic Johnson on a basketball court, Maddon explained, or a great running back who sees a play develop before anyone else around him.
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"They just have this vision," Maddon marveled. "They see things. He sees things. It's so hard to teach how quickly his mind works."
On Sunday night, everyone watched it work in 2.62 seconds, the time Baez had to determine whether to snare a ball on the fly or to let it bounce. And in listening to the second baseman dissect the play, that's all the time he needed to read the situation, glance at a pair of runners and make the decision he thought offered the optimal outcome.
"That's just the way he plays the game," shortstop Addison Russell said. "He knows about these situations. I wasn't even sure what he was doing."
Indeed, it seemed to take most everyone else a few moments to figure out what had just happened when Baez let Joc Pederson's line drive skip in front of him instead of catching it in the air. The Dodgers, already ahead, 1-0, were threatening with Adrián González on second and Josh Reddick on first with one out in the sixth, and Maddon had just summoned reliever Carl Edwards Jr. despite Pederson's favorable splits against righties.
Pederson offered at Edwards' 0-1 fastball and sent a low liner toward Baez, playing a deep second base a few steps into the right-field grass.
"As soon as the ball was hit, both of the runners, they went back," Baez said. Then his instincts kicked in.
"I didn't think about that one," he continued. "Sometimes I do. Sometimes I try to make a crazy play before I make the routine play."
This wasn't so much crazy, but rather especially effective. By letting the ball hit the ground, Baez could make a quick scoop and throw to second to force out Reddick. Russell took the throw and readied to throw to first before realizing that Anthony Rizzo wasn't yet back to the bag and Pederson was hustling down the line. Baez yelled at Russell to turn the other way, where the Cubs had Gonzalez caught between second and third.
Gonzalez had initially retreated back to second, thinking the Baez would make the catch. When he didn't, he started toward third. The Cubs ran him down to end the inning.
"That's a heads-up play for him to just let it drop, because we've got to freeze," Gonzalez said. "We can't run on a ball like that. It definitely put us in a tough spot. If I tried to run back, he could just tag me right after. So then, at that point, when I freeze and then I took a step back, I realized that the ball is going to the shortstop, so I've got to go the other way, and I'm just caught in the middle."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts briefly gathered with the umpires to ask whether the infield-fly rule should have been invoked, but was told that because it was a line drive instead of a popup, there had been no such call.
"I think the runners acted accordingly, and I just kind of wanted to get the interpretation because I felt, for me, the spirit of that rule is if there's guys on first and second base or bases loaded and there's a ball that is at the infielder and it's got some air under it, it's an automatic out," Roberts said. "But they made the right call."
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.