Every once in a while, you get to bear witness to something truly special. But the onces are many and the whiles brief when you watch Ednel Javier Baez on a daily basis. That was the case Thursday night as Joe Maddon did his best to win Questionable Decision BINGO, making curious moves with both his bench and bullpen in what was essentially a must-win game.
Listen, I know it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of hyperbole when writing about El Mago. The hype train left the station long ago and it’s gained far too much momentum to even bother trying to slow it down at this point. So when Javy factors in all four runs of the Cubs’ win at a time when no one else seems capable of doing much of anything, well, it’s going to get me gushing over him.
For much of the game, there was a building sense of dread that mimicked the mass of clouds roiling above Nationals Park. But even though the Cubs were arid early and the field stayed dry for once, Javy ended up making it rain all afternoon. The first drops came when he doubled to right to plate Kris Bryant for the Cubs’ first run in the 4th inning, then scored on a Victor Caratini single to put his team ahead.
Using the opposite field to great effect once again in the 6th, Baez sliced a drive that just missed the taller portion of the outfield wall for a homer. Had it gone a couple feet to the left, it would have been reduced to a double by the 12-foot barrier. And believe it or not, that wasn’t the most perfectly-placed hit he would collect on the day.
Coming up with men on the corners and only one out in the 10th, Javy punched a bunt in the direction of a charging Ryan Zimmerman at first. The ball scooted under Zimmerman’s glove, allowing Bryant to score what would eventually be the winning run.
Kind of a risky play, what with the bunt being popped up a little bit and all, but you take when it’s Javy because he just makes things happen. It’s as though he really does have some sort of magic power to disrupt opponents or to make them see things that aren’t there.
If anyone else is bunting in that situation, the margin for error just isn’t as wide. You almost have to wonder whether that was in Zimmerman’s head in the same manner we’ve seen with other players who get overly concerned with what El Mago is going to do. Or maybe the first baseman was just trying to make the play at home before he’d fielded the ball.
None of that really matters, since the run scored and the Cubs won a huge game under less than ideal circumstances. They got even less ideal when Pedro Strop left with a hamstring injury just two batters after Javy had put the Cubs in front.
Guess the offense is just going to have to pick up the pace and ensure that Strop’s absence isn’t felt as strongly. That may start with Bryant, who had three hits and scored twice Thursday as his timing starts to come back around.
Maddon is going to have his hands full over the next 16 games, but one decision he never has to worry about is having Javy in the lineup. Doesn’t matter where on the field or in the batting order, just put El Mago in there and get the hell out of his way.
Although you’ll sometimes have to clench your jaw through swings at sliders that are in the opposite batter’s box as soon as they leave the pitcher’s hand, or maybe an ill-advised attempt to take an extra base, you can’t red-light the guy. You take what little bad you might get because it’s so heavily outweighed by the good.
Great, actually. Baez was a one-man wrecking crew as he willed the Cubs to come back and then ensured they maintained the lead twice more over the last several innings. And he did it so many different ways, displaying both power and finesse. All to the opposite field, no less. How many people can do what he did?
Only El Mago.
Ed. note: There’s an Easter egg in here that actually drove the whole piece.