Lorenzo Cain’s baserunning brilliance caught Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs flat-footed once again.
Cain’s heady play in the second inning of Saturday’s game at Wrigley Field helped create the Brewers’ first run in an 8-3 win, and it conjured memories of a similarly magical escape on the basepaths 25 months ago at Miller Park.
Here was the situation on Saturday: One out, Cain at second base after a double -- the first of his three hits -- and Ben Gamel batting. Gamel hit a ground ball to Báez at shortstop as Cain broke for third and got caught in a rundown. Cain eluded a series of Cubs fielders long enough for Gamel to get to second base, then had the field awareness to see a path back to second base -- and a path back to first base for Gamel, since Rizzo had vacated to assist in the rundown.
Cain even pointed the way. When Gamel successfully made his retreat, everyone was safe.
"First of all,” said Cain, “I want to say ‘bad read’ by me initially. I thought Báez was on my left hip. So I broke [for third].”
Once in trouble, Cain began looking for an escape.
“I just tried to stay in a rundown there as long as I can, and get Gamel to second,” Cain said. “And as I am running back to second base, I peeked over to first base to see if anyone was there. I noticed no one was there. I'm screaming at Gamel to get back to first base. I'm pointing. I'm doing everything I can to make him aware that first base is open. He picked me up. I got back to second. You know, I’m just out here trying to do what I can to make plays."
The next batter was Orlando Arcia, and he popped out. But thanks to Cain, the inning was still alive for Eric Sogard, who punched a run-scoring single for a 1-1 tie.
“Yeah, I think that's more that we've got to handle that better, no doubt about that,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think everybody, to a man, would admit that. We've got to handle that situation better. Every out matters. Every pitch matters.”
Then there’s this:
“[Cain] has done it before,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
That’s true. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Brewers and Cubs fans had essentially seen it before. In a June 12, 2018, meeting between the teams in Milwaukee, Christian Yelich was the runner at second base and Cain the batter hitting a grounder to Báez in the middle of the field. When Yelich was stranded off the bag, Cain directed traffic, and just like Saturday, everyone was safe.
In that instance, Travis Shaw cashed-in with a two-run double in a 4-0 win. Counsell called Cain’s awareness “flat-out brilliant.” Cain said he’d actually pondered the situation during his years with the Royals, alongside veteran coach Rusty Kuntz. For years, however, the opportunity never presented itself in a game.
Now, Cain has executed it twice in a span of three seasons -- at the Cubs’ expense.
"Yeah, I'm sure they remember the last time I did that to them,” Cain said. “So yeah, I'm sure they were all a little ticked off about it. I'm just trying to be aware out there and just trying to put my guys in the best situation possible. And it ended up working out for us again.”
“It’s to the point where he’s directing traffic out there,” Counsell said, “and that’s what I think was so incredible. He’s getting out of a run down and coaching Ben Gamel on what to do. He’s a baserunner and a base coach. It’s impressive that he’s pulled it off. It got us a run. It was a great baserunning play, a great baseball play that got us a run.”