If the Cubs win the National League Central by a game or two, they might look at two moments 800 miles and one month apart, when Javy Baez stole the division — by stealing home.
“It never stops getting old watching him play baseball,” manager Joe Maddon said after Baez stole home on a pickoff throw to first for the tying run in a 5-2 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. He used a swim move on a headfirst slide to elude the tag after the relay throw beat him to the plate.
“He has mad baseball instincts,” said teammate Addison Russell, who drew the throw purposely by taking a big lead on the fourth-inning play, signaling Baez to be ready to run.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to be the first out at the plate. I was kind of in between,” Baez said. “I just went for it. And the swim move worked. I’ll take that.”
Baez became the first Cub since Ted Savage in 1967 to steal home twice in a season (per researcher Christopher Kamka). He pulled off a nearly identical play June 3 in a 2-0 win over the Mets in New York.
In fact, when Baez needed extra time before addressing the media after the game, one wise-guy writer said the likely All-Star was in the back watching video to figure out how to steal first.
Baez was in position to steal only because, after a leadoff single, he stole second on a pickoff move to first and then took third on the ensuing errant throw to second.
“It’s almost impossible to teach those things,” Maddon said. “Guys have to be bold enough and recognize it in the moment to do those things. He’s different.”
Willson Contreras gave the Cubs the lead with a solo home run in the sixth, then added insurance with a two-out, two-run double in the seventh.
This and that
The Cubs plan to test third baseman Kris Bryant’s ailing left shoulder again Friday but aren’t ruling out a return from the disabled list after the All-Star break. “I don’t know the answer to that, except that he did say he was feeling better,” Maddon said. An MRI exam more than a week ago revealed no structural damage.
• The Cubs upgraded the lineup by swapping out backup catchers before the game, recalling switch hitter Victor Caratini from Class AAA Iowa and designating Chris Gimenez (.143 in 12 games) for assignment. Caratini started at first to spell Anthony Rizzo on Wednesday.
• Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. (shoulder) made a third minor-league rehab appearance Wednesday in anticipation of a return from the DL for the series opener against the Reds on Friday. He threw 20 pitches, seven for strikes, in two-thirds of an inning, allowing a hit and a walk and fanning one. Left-hander Rob Zastryzny (back) joins Iowa on Thursday to start a rehab assignment.
• Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire left the game Wednesday in the third inning for treatment after suffering dehydration in the extreme heat.