Steven Matz throws to keep the runner on at first, but Javy Baez takes off from third and scores to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead over the Mets. (0:25)
NEW YORK — One of the game’s most exciting players was at it again as Javy Baez stole home in the seventh inning of Sunday’s 2-0 win over the New York Mets, breaking a scoreless tie and leading the Chicago Cubs to a four-game sweep and 6-1 road trip.
“First move to the plate,” a smiling Baez explained after the game. “He (pitcher Steve Matz) can’t see me. I was just seeing how high he was going with the leg. If he goes to the plate I would just come back to third base. He took his time to go to first. I went for it. I’m glad I made it.”
The sequence began with Baez on third base while teammate Willson Contreras was on first, after both singled to open the inning. Contreras served as the bait against the lefty Matz.
“Javy gave me a sign to take a bigger lead and at that point I knew exactly what he was thinking,” Contreras said. “On the first pitch I did a fake steal which I think prompted the throw over on the second pitch. It worked out. Javy has the best instincts as a runner and player.”
Baez slid in rather easily as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez delivered the ball late to home, after getting it from Matz, while Contreras took second. It’s the second regular-season steal of home by Baez in two years and just the third by a Cub since 2010. The Cubs’ dugout erupted after the play.
“I don’t know if words can really describe the reaction,” starting pitcher Jon Lester, who was locked in a scoreless duel to that point, said. “Javy never really ceases to amaze anybody…His baseball instincts and how he goes about things on the field, it’s fun to watch.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon made it clear plays like the double steal are the reason spring training is not too long. While he didn’t want to give away “proprietary information,” he intimated the team looks for moments like the one Sunday.
“It doesn’t happen often; the world is set up the proper way to occur,” Maddon said. “Everything was in place right there … There are things I don’t want to stand here and crow about. We executed it well and if it comes up again we’ll be ready to do it again.”
Lester added: “I saw that happen and just kind of laughed. That’s all you can do. It was an unbelievable play. It’s nice it worked out. Gave us a little bit of momentum.”
Baez was also involved in another oddity as he switched positions with teammate Tommy La Stella 10 different times in the game.
Baez was listed as the starter at third base but the Cubs wanted the slick fielder where the ball was going to be, so he and La Stella moved between second and third before Baez finally took over at shortstop after Addison Russell left with a finger injury.
“We had that planned,” Maddon said. “I didn’t want to talk about it before the game but I wanted Javy where the highest probability was (of ground balls). It didn’t play out heavily at all, but the ball on the ground we wanted to be protected.”
Baez was asked if it was strange moving around so much.
“I was kind of in between,” he answered. “I was kind of confused but it was cool.”
Russell injured the middle finger on his left hand on a swing and says he might be out two to three days. The Cubs are off on Monday after playing their best baseball of the season. It began last Sunday night at Wrigley Field, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a day game on Memorial Day. A series win there was followed by the sweep of the Mets which included a 14-inning affair on Saturday where the Cubs tried to avoid pitching five relievers who had been overworked. From Sunday to Sunday, they went 7-1, getting to 10 games over .500 for the first time this season.
“Absolutely, it’s the best week of the year for us,” Maddon simply stated.
Topped off by the best play of the week and one of the most exciting in baseball: a steal of home to break a tie. Baez was asked if he’ll watch the highlight, which is bound to be played a lot in Chicago over the next couple of days.
“Good, yeah,” Baez said smiling again. “I would love to see myself.”
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