Let’s start with the bottom line: Cubs infielder Javy Baez, who left the 5-1 loss to the Braves on Sunday after colliding with second baseman Ozzie Albies while sliding head-first into the bag at second, appears to be OK.
You can breathe, Chicago.
With Ian Happ at the plate in the second inning, Baez broke for second as pitcher Max Fried delivered a pickoff throw to first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman threw a strike to Albies, who tagged Baez just before the ever-aggressive base runner smashed the right side of his face into Albies’ left knee.
Baez stayed down, his face an inch above the dirt, for close to half a minute before he sat up. Several tense seconds after that, he gingerly rose to his feet, assisted by a Cubs trainer, and stayed in the game. In the top of the third, though — bothered by what a Cubs spokesman called blurred vision — Baez appeared to take himself out of the game. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where the initial evaluation of his eye was, according to the team spokesman, “quite positive.”
Baez was not expected to be put through a concussion protocol. Initial plans were for him to remain in Chicago overnight before joining the team in Pittsburgh, where the Cubs open a four-game series against the Pirates on Monday afternoon.
In short: Baez will be back in the saddle at shortstop in no time, perhaps even on Monday. He has been an every-day rock for the Cubs throughout the full month that Addison Russell has spent on the disabled list. Not only that, Baez has been a fast-improving player — taking smarter routes to ground balls and working better at-bats — and, by a country mile, the most entertaining member of the Cubs.
No one is more fun to watch than Baez, especially when he’s on the bases. Steals of home? Check. Going from second to home on a dribbler to the pitcher? Baez pulled that off as recently as Friday. Bashing face-first into the other guy’s knee? OK, now he’s done that, too.
“That’s just who he is,” right fielder Jason Heyward said. “Javy plays the game all-out, all the time, every day. You don’t think that’s going to change, do you?”
Goodness, let’s hope not.
As always is the case when Baez’s baseballs-to-the-wall style is on display, there was more to the fateful play than the aforementioned “bottom line.” For one thing, manager Joe Maddon was certain Fried had committed a balk before throwing to Freeman. Oh, and there’s also this: Despite an official review that upheld the out call at second, replays appeared to show that Baez got a hand on the bag before Albies tagged him.
Maddon, for one, was convinced Baez had beaten the tag. Only Baez, it seems, could be picked off and kneed in the eye on the same play and end up with a stolen base. Alas, he’ll have to try the maneuver again sometime to prove it.
The Cubs failed in their bid to secure what would’ve been a season-high seventh consecutive victory. They also failed to lock down what would’ve been their first unbeaten homestand of at least seven games since August of 2015. Oh, well. Six out of seven isn’t too shabby.
But losing Baez for any length of time on top of that would’ve been an absolute gut punch. They’re still on pace for 90 victories. They still control their own destiny in the National League Central. And they still have Baez, as big a key as there has been to this whole operation, in one piece.
“He’s very important to us right now,” Maddon said. “I cannot deny that.”
No one would dare.
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