Javy races, slings and walks off against Tribe

September 17th, 2020

CHICAGO -- When it comes to Cubs shortstop , Cubs manager David Ross has something in common with the team's fans.

"I love watching that guy play baseball," Ross said. "It's a joy, and I've got a front-row seat."

On Wednesday night, Báez made his mark on the Cubs' 3-2, 10-inning win over Cleveland in multiple ways. That included striking the final blow with a game-winning single off Cleveland reliever Phil Maton, making the most of the five shutout innings from Chicago's bullpen.

It has been quite a four-game swing of emotions for the National League Central leaders, who are now 30-20 with 10 games left on the regular-season slate. The Cubs beat Brewers relief ace Josh Hader in the ninth inning on Saturday, saw Alec Mills spin a no-hitter in Milwaukee Sunday and then walked off the Tribe on back-to-back nights.

Báez was in the middle of everything on Wednesday night.

"Javy's always going to affect the game," Ross said. "And cause a little bit of chaos. You can't ever sleep on him."

Here is how Báez impacted the game:

1. In the batter's box
Cubs reliever Jason Adam finished off the top of the 10th with an eye-popping curveball that struck out Báez's good friend, shortstop Francisco Lindor. That stranded a pair of Cleveland runners and set the stage for the North Siders' final push.

Kris Bryant led off with a single, and Cleveland elected to intentionally walk Anthony Rizzo to load the bases with no outs. Maton made that decision look smart at first, with consecutive strikeouts of Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.

Then Báez slipped into an 0-2 count.

"You can't ever count that guy out, man," Ross said. "He continues to fight, compete."

Báez entered the evening just 1-for-24 with 14 strikeouts on at-bats ending in an 0-2 count, but he excelled in that situation in '19. Last year, the shortstop hit at a .270 clip (17-for-63) with four homers, six doubles and an .825 OPS in at-bats ending in 0-2. For perspective, MLB hitters average a .153 mark (.393 OPS) in such scenarios in '19.

Maton spun a curveball that dove low and outside, dropping out of the strike zone. Báez went after the pitch anyway and somehow got the bat to it, pulling the baseball over third baseman José Ramírez and into left field.

"It was actually a good pitch," Báez said. "I just got to it."

2. On the bases
A Báez baserunning highlight has become a regular occurrence over the past few days.

On Sunday in Milwaukee, Báez scored from second base on a sacrifice fly -- thanks to Eric Sogard taking his eyes off the shortstop for a moment. On Tuesday, Báez stole second base and then made it all the way home when catcher Sandy León threw wildly into center field.

"You look at it a little differently in this seat, for sure," Ross said with a smile. "Like, you want to play smart baseball, but you understand how he impacts the game. He knows it. He's probably more in tune than anybody we've got with just the baseball feel out there."

In the fourth, Báez grounded a ball to shortstop for what had the makings of a potential inning-ending double play. Lindor gloved the ball and fired it to second baseman Yu Chang, who then threw errantly to first. When the ball skipped away, Báez was off to the races.

"You think you've got him," Ross said. "And next thing you know, the magician ends up scoring."

Báez made it all the way to third on the play, and then scored on a infield single to Lindor deep in the hole between short and third. That run gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

"Once I get on base, the other teams worry about me a lot," Báez said. "They forget about plans. But I get on base and I just improvise."

3. In the field
Cleveland was trying to get something going in the fourth, when Franmil Reyes came through with a one-out single against Cubs lefty Jon Lester.

Jordan Luplow followed by lining a changeup from Lester to shortstop, where Báez was perfectly positioned. The shortstop barely had to move to make the catch, and then he quickly snapped off an 85.4 mph throw (per Statcast) across the diamond to Rizzo.

"It was good, but it was right in [Reyes'] lane," Báez said. "I thought it was going to hit him, and then he dived. That's why Tony, with the great feet to catch the ball and [make] the play."

Rizzo made a reaching catch, kept one foot on the bag and then used some slick footwork to avoid Reyes as he dove back in. The result was a crucial, inning-ending double play.

"He affects the game in a positive way," Ross said. "His energy, his at-bats, his power, his glove."