It’s easy to blow the result of an exciting play out of proportion, especially when a run scores. On Wednesday night, Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez stole home and the internet nearly broke.
It’s exciting when somebody steals home. However, Baez didn’t so much as steal home, as he did capitalize on a mental error by Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart.
With one out in the bottom of the second inning and Baez on third, Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana was at the plate showing bunt for, what ended up looking like, a safety squeeze. (A safety squeeze is when the runner on third doesn’t break for home until the bunt is down.) With a runner on third and the batter showing bunt, Pirates pitcher Ivan Nova located his pitch near Quintana’s shoulders and he pulled his bat out of the way. Baez was caught with a huge secondary lead and nowhere to go.
Let’s go through the sequence of events that led to Baez scoring and look at what happened compared to what should have happened.
With Baez nearly halfway to home, Stewart jumped up and skipped a weak throw down to third baseman David Freese. Once the ball was out of Stewart’s hand, Baez broke for home and scored easily.
It’s easy to look at what happened with Stewart and say that he flubbed up the play by throwing to third. But why? One of the first things you learn in baseball is never to throw behind a runner. Outfielders always get the ball to second base on a single and third for a double. Keeping the ball in front of the runner is fundamental.
As a catcher, when you see somebody that far off a base, you get excited. Your first though is, “He’s toast.” You can see that Stewart’s original thought was to catch Baez at third, but judging by his throw, he likely thought better halfway through his motion and that’s how he ended up skipping the ball to Freese.
The best approach Stewart could have taken with Baez was to hold the ball and wait for Baez to go back to third. If Baez had persisted, Stewart could have closed the gap on foot and ran him back to the base. Of course, that leaves home plate wide open, but that makes it Nova’s job to cover home in case Baez finds a way to get by Stewart.
Baez made this play happen out of hustle. Clearly Stewart was worried about his speed just 90 short feet away. But let’s call it what it is: a mental error by Stewart that led to an opportunity.
Feature photo by Brigham Berthold