The fate of the game turned on the exploits of a young man who used to swing left-handed and who stepped into the box with one out in the 8th inning just looking to make it to first base, even if that meant bunting for a hit. That by-any-means-necessary approach was forced by Johnny Cueto, who hadn’t walked any Cubs and had only allowed two other hits, none since a Baez single in the 5th.
I had lamented to a couple of the folks gathered at our Cubs Insider watch party — which went really well and raised nearly $300 for Riley Hospital — that I was worried Javy wouldn’t be patient enough in facing Cueto. Sure enough, his first at-bat resulted in a 1-0 fly-out to center. His second AB, a single to right, came on the first pitch he saw. But it looked as though Cueto was getting stronger as the evening wore on, striking out the side in the 6th and setting the Cubs down in order in the 7th. He’d struck out five of the last eight hitters he’d faced prior to Baez stepping in for the third time.
Here’s the thing about Javy Baez, though: He’s unconventional. Not in the crack-addled-marionette manner of Hunter Pence, who plays the game like a real-life Max Headroom. Rather, Baez is a jack of all trades who never seems to do the same thing twice. Friday night, he traded that bunt for a jack as he dialed in his approach and let Cueto and the game come to him.
It’s almost as though he’d rope-a-doped the pitcher, lulling his prey into a false sense of security. Baez knew he could beat the Giants with his speed, was happy to help his team however they needed him to. So after seeing only three pitches in two previous at-bats, he took three to open what figured to be his final opportunity. And these weren’t obvious takes, either, the first just barely missing the bottom of the zone and the third skirting a little outside. Two balls and a strike, time to put in work.
Baez fouled off the next offering to bring the count even and then took another, a four-seam fastball, to fill it. Cueto went back to that same pitch but left it middle in, which was probably not his best effort. And that’s when Javy Baez loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, swift sword.
— Nice Kicks (@nicekicks) October 8, 2016
“I was just trying to get on base,” JavyAir — who lived up to his soon-to-be-much-popular moniker in more ways than one — said after the game. “With one out, obviously, I was thinking about bunting and the third baseman was playing in. I knew Cueto was pitching me inside all night, just waiting for him to make a mistake and he finally did.
“I was just so focused on that AB that I completely forgot about the wind and I thought I hit it really good,” Baez explained. “I thought it was way farther than, but when I saw (Angel Pagan) jump I was like, ‘No way that ball didn’t stay in.’ And, you know, it barely went out, but I’ll still take it.”
Those of you who were watching at home or in the ballpark might have seen it differently, but I thought for sure the ball was ticketed for Nuveen sign. The twenty-odd people in our room erupted and started flying around high-fiving each other before realizing that the ball had barely made it out. After both hands and voice were rendered useless by the celebratory lap around the room, I looked back to see that Javy was only then finishing his own circuit around the bases.
“Didn’t mean to show anybody up, obviously. But it was a big hit for us.”
Yeah, I’d say calling that a big hit is accurate. After a day, or maybe a week, spent simmering in a cauldron of restless anticipation, a lot of us were psychological wrecks. But that homer had the transformative alchemic power to turn the lead in our guts to gold. Surely I’m not the only one who woke up this morning feeling a hell of a lot better about Saturday’s game than I had Friday’s. Or maybe that’s just feeling more confident about facing Jeff Samardzija than Cueto.
There’s something else too. As I’ve been typing this, donations have continued to roll in to the PayPal link I set up to collect the proceeds from our silent auction and raffle Friday night. We’re now over $450 and I’ve already teared up and broken out in chills in the last few minutes from seeing the generosity of strangers. You guys rock and I am so humbled right now. Stuff like this, being able to bring some of my fellow fans together to celebrate our team and raise even a little bit for a good cause, is so incredibly fulfilling.
What a night. Now to do it ten more times.