Len Kasper was just mentioning that Derek Dietrich had hit a walk-off triple Sunday night in Miami when the Marlins first baseman roped a ball into the gap in right center. It got hung up only so briefly in the ivy and it appeared as though Jason Heyward was readying to raise his arms to call for the ground-rule double. The ball then popped free and Dietrich tried to take advantage of the split-second of indecision, rounding second at a dead sprint.
Thing is, though, Heyward’s not really the guy you want to run on. Not only is he big and athletic with a strong, accurate arm, but his awareness and technique accentuate those attributes. That was all on display as Heyward overran the ball slightly so as to set himself to be able to pick it up already in position to throw. Knowing he didn’t have time for a crow-hop, he simply drop-stepped and fired to his relay man.
Under normal circumstances, there’s no way the play could have gotten better from that point. Except Javy Baez makes a living out of creating abnormal circumstances. Remember how Heyward didn’t have time to collect himself and hop? Javy didn’t either, so he set up with his back to the plate and began moving toward third base to generate momentum as he was receiving the throw from his right fielder. As a result, he was able to catch and fire in one seamless motion, firing a one-hop laser beam into Kris Bryant’s glove to get Dietrich easily. Watching the ball come out of Javy’s hand, it doesn’t even seem real (full video).
And I suppose Bryant did a pretty good job collecting the throw and swiping the runner. If you’re into that sort of thing, I mean. Given how freakishly hard Baez fired the baseball, it’s a wonder Bryant was able to see it at all and that his glove wasn’t vaporized by the impact.
Here's a better view of the perfect play from Heyward to Baez to Bryant. pic.twitter.com/DFPuHkOxNJ
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) August 2, 2016
The runner could do nothing but lie there in a puddle of disappointment, out of breath and with nothing to show for it but a dirty uniform. Unable to see the play before him because the force of the slide forced his helmet over his eyes, Dietrich no doubt felt and heard the whistling sphere signalling his doom as it passed over his left shoulder. He’s not the first to make the mistake of testing the gloves and arms of this Cubs team, and he won’t be the last. Heck, Dee Gordon tried to steal second later in the game and was absolutely pegged by Willson Contreras.
I continue to be amazed by the way these players are able to combine superior athleticism with fundamental soundness, adding healthy dashes of instinct and improvisation to dial up the “wow” factor. It’s like watching a great jazz ensemble just flowing and riffing extemporaneously. Beautiful. Poetic, even.