Cubs' Javy Báez mixes great play with bad look again

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Gordon Wittenmyer
·4 min read
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Taking the bad (look) with the good in Javy's game originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Turns out the Mets aren’t very good. At least when Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman don’t pitch. And definitely not when the ball is hit to most of them.

In part because of those facts and the fact that the Cubs stayed error-free for three nights, hit especially well in spots and pitched well late, they earned their first series sweep of the season, beating the Mets 4-3 in 10 innings Thursday.

But for all the postgame glow and plaudits passed around for the “character win” and ability to get back to .500 after a crap start to the season, a moment likely to get a disproportionate amount of air time Friday morning — right or wrong — is also one that manager David Ross noticed enough to say something to veteran All-Star Javy Báez.

Leading off the seventh inning after the Mets tied the score in the top of the inning, Báez hit a high pop to shallow right-center, then waited — apparently upset — before running.

This being the Mets, the ball fell between three “fielders,” with Báez reaching first and taking a wide turn but having no chance to attempt a sprint for second.

It’s anything but clear whether he could have made it to second without being thrown out, but it was a bad look — worse than any of his 34 strikeouts and made worse yet by turning his back and lollygagging back to first as the Mets threw behind him.

He was called out on the throw that beat him back to the bag but saved by a replay challenge that showed the tag wasn’t properly applied for the out.

Matt Duffy then followed with a grounder to short that became a double play, and the inning was over quickly after that.

“I’ve talked to Javy about that,” Ross said when asked about the play after the game.

Did the manager thing Báez could have reached second on the play?

“We discussed it,” Ross said. “I was watching the outfield at the moment. I’ve talked to Javy about it. Thanks.”

It didn't prove as costly as it might have looked in the moment -- not by the time Jason Heyward delivered the Cubs' first walkoff hit of the season in the 10th.

And that was all Ross offered publicly on the subject after the game.

Báez is a former MVP runner-up, a two-time All-Star starter, a Gold Glove winner, a guy who hit a grand slam the night before and one of the most exciting all-around players in the game.

The moment will likely be forgotten before long, especially if he continues pulling out of his early season slump.

More than anything it was just an example of the one, occasional, aggravating aspect of the most entertaining Cub’s playing style.

Maybe it’s just the split-second bad you take with so much good from the most athletic and best all-around player on the team. That’s how Hall of Fame-caliber manager Joe Maddon approached it, and Báez developed into “El Mago” under Maddon.

Maybe part of it is the nature of playing a game every day and all the ups and downs and emotions involved in that.

And nobody can suggest in good faith that Báez doesn’t care about winning or being great or that he falls short on either count — as an indispensable member of the 2016 World Series championship team who shared the NLCS MVP with Jon Lester and who would have won the Division Series MVP if there was such a thing.

And not that he’s the only one in the game who has moments like Thursday’s — or even that he has more than some other big-name players.

It’s just that for a guy who makes so many difficult things look so easy while playing such a hard game, it can be tough to watch that occasional lapse when it comes to the easiest part of the game to control.

So Báez is sure to get another hot turn on the hot-take circuit Friday.

But at least he and the Cubs — and even the critics of both — won’t have time to dwell with an early start Friday to the series opener against the division-leading Brewers.

And don’t be surprised if Báez pulls off another two or three moments over the weekend that make everybody gasp again for all the right reasons, and remember again why he’s the fan favorite with the Cubs-leading jersey sales and the team’s coolest nickname.

The thing is that disappearing act is the most unnecessary part of the "El Mago" bag of tricks.

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