Which of the three states of matter is Javy Baez? On the surface, that’s a silly question: He’s a solid, same as any other human. But there are times when Baez seems to flit through the other two. On the base paths, he turns liquid, gliding and twisting away from would-be tags; sometimes he’s so good at avoiding gloves that he seems like a gas, unable to be touched. He’s a magic trick: Now you see him, and now … well, you still see him, but good luck catching him.
The highlight reel of Baez ducking and dodging on the bases is a long and enjoyable one. In fact, here’s five minutes of the Cubs’ star infielder showing off his best swim moves, contortions and hyper-aggressive decisions, somehow always escaping trouble (occasionally thanks to the help of his trusty sidekick, replay review).
… into an infield single by juking David Freese so hard that this might pop up in a “Best NBA crossovers” YouTube compilation within the next week.
The setup: It’s 6–0, Cubs, in the second inning. Up steps Baez against Kenta Maeda. He falls behind 0–2, then swings at a slider about a mile off the plate and softly—so weakly it didn’t even register an exit velocity on Statcast—taps the ball to Freese at first base. With the second baseman far off to the right thanks to a shift and Maeda nowhere near first, Freese has only one play: Intercept Baez and tag him. But as you can see above, he’s got plenty of space and time to make it happen. For a hitter, it’s about as hopeless as it can get. For Baez, though…
Consider being Freese in this moment. You’ve got Baez dead to rights. This is by no means an easy play, charging and gloving a ball and then swerving into the base path, but the degree of difficulty isn’t wild. Besides, runners tend to slow down in the face of obstacles, or at least accept their futile fate. This isn’t a situation where you expect your ankles to get shattered, or for this somehow to end up with Baez standing on first, grinning.
It probably wouldn’t have, either, had Freese’s momentum not carried him into foul territory and past Baez to give him just the window he needed to elude the tag and dive into the bag. But again: Most runners would’ve given up here. Baez, though, seems to know no limit to his efforts, or at least believe that he’s immune to the hard ceiling of reality. Just look at the swing he took on this ball:
That’s a ludicrous, awful, horrendous hack on a pitch that neither Baez nor anyone else has business offering at, much less making contact with. (It’s par the course for him, though: Coming into Tuesday night, he led all qualified hitters in outside-swing rate, at a whopping 46.7%!) Yet when it’s all said and done, there’s Baez on first base, proving once again that your simple laws of physics don’t apply to him.