CHICAGO – It’s getting harder and harder to keep the hyperbole out of descriptions of “El Mago” as his Cubs’ career continues. Even when he’s injured, Javy Baez finds a way to do something inspiring.
For the first time during the 2019 season, a heel injury knocked him out of the lineup for the past two games. While available to pinch hit, Baez may not have been able to play the field.
That made using him in the lineup particularly tricky for extra innings, but even so, Joe Maddon had him pinch hit anyway on Tuesday evening. Just like Javy would, all he needed was one pitch, knocking the first Juan Nicasio delivery into right field to give the Cubs a 3-2 win over the Phillies.
The heel still looked a little sore as he made his way to first to make the game official, but he came through for the Cubs despite the injury.
Could this moment bring some surprise from teammates like Kris Bryant? After what they’ve seen during the past few years, they said no.
“I’m impressed, but certainly not surprised,” the third baseman said of Baez. “He’s been doing stuff like that the last couple of years. It’s been really fun to watch him do. Thankfully he was up there in that situation to win the game for us.”
Bryant’s relief comes from the fact the Cubs offense was dormant for the first eight innings. Their star sat on the bench, nursing the injury suffered Sunday night against the Nationals. But Baez was getting ready before the ninth by hitting in the batting cages. Then in the final inning, athletic trainer PJ Mainville taped his ankle, in hopes of getting a pinch-hit chance.
“I was trying to swing off the tee because my heel is still pretty sore, swollen a little bit,” Baez said before the at-bat. “Everybody didn’t believe me, but then in the ninth inning I came to the cage with cleats on and everybody’s freaking out. So I was telling everybody that I was ready, and I told PJ to tape my ankle, and he did it.”
While manager Joe Maddon considered it, a few things had to happen to make it a reality. A walk by Bryant, a double by Anthony Rizzo, then after an out, an intentional walk to Jason Heyward. That loaded the bases and was followed by a fielder’s choice by Albert Almora Jr. in which Bryant beat the throw home to put the Cubs just a hit from victory.
Maddon put Baez in to replace Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 at that point in the game.
“Daniel just had a tough night and this guy is kind of a reverse-split pitcher… so I went with it,” Maddon explained. “Actually, the delay there on the play at the plate permitted me just another nano-second to think about it. I was still vacillating, but then I said, ‘Why not?”
The decision was a good one, as Baez gave the Cubs their fourth walk-off hit in the last eight games, and gave fans another story to add to a scrapbook of heroics for the 2018 NL MVP finalist.
“It was awesome,” said Bryant of the hit, but as he’s learned, it’s not unexpected from “El Mago.”