CHICAGO — Javier Báez sprinted back into left field, considering that the wind had been howling out all afternoon at Wrigley Field. When the Cubs shortstop looked to the sky in search of the baseball, it was dying unexpectedly in the air and he had run too far.
During the seventh inning of Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Padres, Mother Nature altered the conditions swiftly, causing the flags that were rippling towards Lake Michigan to reverse course with a welcomed breeze on a sweltering day. Baez adjusted his route and reeled in the catch, and moments later the North Side crowd stood and roared in response to the rapidly decreasing temperature.
“That was pretty crazy,” Baez said. “You never know here in Chicago, man.”
Just like everyone in the ballpark needed that blast of cool air on a day with a 107-degree heat index, the Cubs needed the performance that Baez turned in against San Diego.
For the second game in a row, the torturous conditions led to a slew of sloppy plays in the field and on the basepaths for both teams. Baez did enough on his own to help the Cubs overcome their shortcomings, launching a go-ahead three-run home run in the fourth inning and then pulling off one of his signature no-look tags at a critical juncture in the ninth.
The win was the seventh in eight games since the All-Star break for the National League Central-leading Cubs.
“We needed him to do that today,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Quite frankly, we needed him to be that guy today and he was.”
For the first time all day, a breeze came through a steamy Wrigley Field.
So the Friendly Confines gave Mother Nature a standing ovation. 😂 pic.twitter.com/R0M7yL48GL
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 20, 2019
Ahead of this series against the Padres, Maddon was asked about Baez’s recent slump in the batter’s box and the frustration that the shortstop was clearly displaying on the field. In seven games prior to this weekend set, Baez had a .484 OPS. The manager went out on a limb and expressed confidence that one of baseball’s most dynamic players would soon turn things around.
Baez flipped a switch in a two-hit showing on Friday afternoon, belting his MLB-leading 13th home run to the opposite field in a win over the Padres. In Chicago’s latest win, Baez doubled and scored in the first and then singled and scored in the third against Padres lefty
In the fourth, Lucchesi left a 1-0 sinker over the middle and Baez sent it into the left-center field bleacher seats to give Chicago a 6-5 lead. The Cubs shortstop strolled out of the batter’s box, admiring his work on his 24th homer of the season.
Maddon said Baez’s blast saved the Cubs “from ruin” in that inning.
Earlier in the fourth, Addison Russell was unable to advance to third from second on a ball that got away from catcher Austin Hedges. Then, the Cubs second baseman was later thrown out at the plate attempting to score on a chopper to third base off the bat of Albert Almora Jr. Due to that play, Chicago was on the brink of coming up empty handed after having runners on second and third with no outs.
“We made some mistakes,” Maddon said. “But again, the standout to me is the game Javy had.”
Baez applied the exclamation point in the ninth.
Baez’s glove struck Myers’ left foot before the Padres outfielder could get a hand on second base. San Diego challenged the out call, but it turned out to be a case of seeing is believing. Baez — without looking back at the runner — made a perfect tag.
“It’s Javy we’re talking about,” Almora said. “Every chance he gets, I think he’s able to make an out.”
“That was pretty crucial right there,” Maddon said.
Baez has earned the nickname “El Mago” (the magician) for such plays, but the shortstop said he has spent a lot of time behind the scenes perfecting what looks impossible.
“I’ve practiced it before,” Baez said. “I work on my tags inside with the machines. … I practice the throws when they’re coming in and if it’s a bad throw, where I should get out and where the runner’s coming in his lane.”
Kimbrel hung on for the save, retiring Manny Machado for the game’s final out.
And after the win, Baez was asked if his home run or his tag brought him more satisfaction. Sitting at the neighboring locker, setup man Pedro Strop chimed in.
“Both,” Strop said.
Baez cracked a smile.
“Both, yeah,” the shortstop said.