Shortstop Javy Baez made the remarkable look routine.
This time, Baez applied a behind-the-back, no-look tag in the ninth inning Saturday to help preserve the Cubs’ 6-5 victory against the Padres. The play had a sellout crowd buzzing and the Padres asking for a video review because — come on — nobody makes that play.
Well, almost nobody.
“It’s Javy we’re talking about, so, yeah,” center fielder Albert Almora said. “Every chance he gets, I think he’s able to make an out.”
Baez also provided the heroics at the plate with a three-run home run in the fourth inning that gave the Cubs the lead for good. He bailed out a slew of sloppy plays by the team and lifted the Cubs to their seventh win in eight games since the All-Star break.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo drove in two runs and increased his hitting streak to 11 games. Closer Craig Kimbrel notched his sixth save.
Yet it was Baez’s defensive gem that dominated the postgame conversation.
If you missed the play, don’t worry; it’s sure to show up on Baez’s career-highlight reel.
There was one out in the ninth when Padres outfielder Wil Myers tried to steal second base. Cubs catcher Victor Caratini popped out of his stance and fired a hard throw, but the ball sailed up and away to the right of the base.
Any typical infielder would have settled for catching the ball and preventing it from getting past him.
Instead, Baez refused to surrender the stolen base. In a fluid motion, he extended his glove to make the catch and swiped his glove down and behind his back, all without looking, to tag Myers on the back of his foot as he slid headfirst into second.
Replays confirmed that Baez made the tag just before Myers’ fingers touched the bag.
Was it his greatest defensive play yet?
“It’s right up there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s just who he is.”
Like Almora, Maddon believed that Baez could make the play as he watched Caratini’s throw sail up the line.
“I would bet if you talked to Javy, he was calculating that whole thing,” Maddon said. “He thought, ‘I saw the ball going up the line. I thought if I get to it [and] come straight down, I can get him on his leg somewhere.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”
Maddon was correct.
Baez said he envisioned how he would apply the tag the moment he saw the throw veer right.
“I’ve practiced this before,” Baez said. “Obviously, I don’t want to run into him, so I’ve got to be careful with where I go to get the ball. I tried to stay out of his lane. [It’s] not giving up on the play, I guess.”
Either that or it’s magic.
But the wizard known as “El Mago” made it clear that such plays are the result of determination and hard work, not some inexplicable force. Yes, he has a gift, but he will not allow himself to relax and get by on natural ability alone.
Much like how players take batting practice to refine their swing, Baez routinely seeks out drills to improve his tagging.
“I work on my tags inside with the machines — especially when I get a new glove, to break them in and stuff,” Baez said. “I like doing everything inside. I don’t really go out there [to practice tagging]. But I practice the throws when they’re coming in, and if it’s a bad throw, where I should get [my feet] and where the runner’s coming in his lane.”
So what felt better? His go-ahead home run or his unbelievable tag?
“Both,” he said.