Ben Zobrist celebrates with Anthony Rizzo after the Cubs’ 2-1 victory over the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLDS. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

He’s no Javy, but play of Zobrist’s Cub life was good enough in Game 3

SHARE He’s no Javy, but play of Zobrist’s Cub life was good enough in Game 3
SHARE He’s no Javy, but play of Zobrist’s Cub life was good enough in Game 3

It was the top of the third inning Monday when Cubs fans across the free world — and many a fickle scribe in the Wrigley Field press box — thought, or maybe even shouted, five words that seem to come up often when 36-year-old Ben Zobrist is stationed at second base: “Javy would’ve made that play.”

Zobrist ranged to his right and made an error on a Bryce Harper ground ball that nearly led to a big inning for the Nationals. On a day when Nats pitcher Max Scherzer was essentially unhittable, a couple of runs would’ve been disastrous. Still, those five words hung in the air like a wafting stench.

Javy Baez, perhaps the best defensive infielder in baseball, would’ve made that play. Would’ve made it in his sleep. Would’ve made it with enough time to wink at several fawning fans in the stands before firing over to first.

But wouldn’t you know it? Zobrist hung in there in a tense, sloppy Game 3 of the NLDS and became arguably the biggest hero of the Cubs’ 2-1 victory.

With his team trailing 1-0 — and being no-hit — in the seventh, Zobrist lined a one-out double to left-center that knocked Scherzer out of the game and led to the tying run. And then, in the eighth, he robbed Nats leadoff man Trea Turner of what looked like a certain base hit, diving with full extension to his left to snare a screaming one-hopper.

It was merely Zobrist’s best defensive play in two years as a Cub. Baez couldn’t have done it any better.

“A hit there would’ve turned the whole game around,” Kris Bryant said. “With Turner on the bases, he steals a bag — it’s impossible to throw him out. That was one of the better plays I’ve seen.”

After throwing to Rizzo for the out, Zobrist exulted like baseball fans have gotten accustomed to seeing him do at this time of year. They saw it in Kansas City, where he won a championship with the Royals in 2015. And we saw it last November in Game 7 in Cleveland, after the World Series MVP’s go-ahead double in the 10th inning.

“The emotion that he showed after that play reminded me of when he got the hit in Game 7,” Bryant said. “It was nice to see that.”

Maddon said before the game that you “can’t run away” from Zobrist’s track record in the postseason, but did that really mean he had to play second and kick Baez to the curb? Zobrist could’ve played left field, for example, instead of Kyle Schwarber. No one would’ve raised a stink.

Yet let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. What happened with Zobrist in Game 3 was special. Walking off the field, he looked into the dugout at Baez, who was staring back out at him. It was an unspoken message shared between teammates who don’t give a damn what the rest of us think.

“He looked at me like, ‘That’s it, man. That’s what you’ve got to do in that spot,’ ” Zobrist said. “And when he makes those plays, I do the same thing with him. … We always root for each other.”

The look Zobrist got from reliever C.J. Edwards — who blew a late lead in Game 2 — only added to the moment for a 12-year veteran who really doesn’t need anyone to tell him he can’t quite do all the things he used to do.

But just give him a chance when the big money is on the line.

“I know I can make those plays,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the opportunity and being ready for it. It’s been tough the last couple of years here trying to make those plays at Wrigley, for whatever reason, but this is when it counts the most and that’s when you need to make them the most.”

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.



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