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Was baseball watching? Did it appreciate the most exciting play in the game executed perfectly by Willson Contreras and, of course, the incomparable Javy Baez on Sunday in New York? And did it remember how great the game can be when played with intelligence and aggression?
Because that theft of home, even though it happened in the middle of a game, was as thrilling as just about any walk-off home run.
And Javy didn't just steal home, he stole it by a mile. And at the same time, Contreras didn't just draw an initial pick-off throw, he then bolted for second as the first baseman relayed the ball home and was safe there without a throw. That base proved critical when Contreras moved to third on an infield hit and then scored on Ben Zobrist's one-out sacrifice fly.
And the Cubs went on to win 2-0 to complete a four-game sweep of the Mets in New York and cap off a 6-1 road trip. Not bad. They enter this week tied with the Brewers in the loss column but the team from Milwaukee has still played four more games than the Cubs.
As he has already done many times in his still young career, Mr. Baez electrified his team and Cubs fans and reminded everyone how exciting good baserunning can be. And baseball needs to pay very close attention.
Because plays like this are becoming less and less frequent (which actually adds to the excitement). I understand the analytics that point out that unless you are successful stealing about 75 percent of the time it isn't worth it to lose the baserunner.
But I would argue that is only in situations when high average players are coming up. And I would argue that, especially in the National League, teams can make hay and increase excitement, with aggressive baserunning in the bottom half of the order.
The perfect scenario for that sort of play arose quickly in the seventh inning after Contreras singled and Baez, who had also singled, went first to third. Baez quickly made eye contact with Contreras, who said after the game that he knew exactly what Javy wanted.
One critical ingredient was that Mets pitcher Steve Matz was a lefty and therefore wasn't looking at Baez at third when he went into his stretch. Another was that the Cubs had apparently worked on a variation of this sort of play way back in spring training but the circumstances for it were never perfect until Sunday.
After the Cubs scored, Jon Lester went out and consolidated the lead with his seventh and final shutout inning on the day. There were worries coming into the season that Lester had taken a small step back last year and was no longer a top-two guy in a winning rotation. He has answered those concerns with a great run of starts over the past month. And his going seven innings was of course especially clutch because the Cubs had taxed their bullpen and then some the night before in a 14-inning win.
If any pitcher in the league would seem to be vulnerable to the double steal it would be Lester, who went into this season with a different strategy for conquering the case of "yips" that has made it very difficult for him to throw to bases for the past half-dozen seasons or so. This year he was going to focus on throwing down toward bases, i.e., not worrying if the ball bounced on its way there. He has had some success with that but of late mostly he has avoided giving up excess base-runners.
The Cubs have a day off today and then welcome the Phillies to Wrigley Field with a game starting at 7:05 Tuesday.
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Posted on Feb 21, 2020