PITTSBURGH — Javier Báez hit reverse and chaos ensued. Embarrassment too for the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates.
The unpredictable Chicago Cubs shortstop ran the first baseline backward while being chased by Pittsburgh first baseman Will Craig in the top of the third inning on Thursday, leading to a comedy of errors during a two-run rally in Chicago’s 5-3 victory.
“My first thought was to go head first, pretty much out of the baseline, but the throw got there so early, ” explained Baez. “I ran back and I was just trying to make Willy score even though there was two outs. At the same time, I was keeping him close to me, so he could chase me. I did plan it right when it happened. Never had that in my plans. When it happened, plan ended when he called safe. I reminded [myself] I was still safe and I had to go back to first. I was just pretty tired.”
Willson Contreras was on second with two outs when Báez hit a routine grounder to third baseman Erik González. González’s throw to Craig at first was up the line. Báez hit the brakes to avoid Craig’s tag and started backtracking toward the plate. Rather than turn and jog a few steps to first for an inning-ending force, Craig curiously decided to follow Báez.
“Only Javy disappears on the base paths more than any person I’ve seen. It really is a magic act,” laughed Cubs manager David Ross. “The fact that Willson – he called him safe and jumped up and down, and then ran to first – I got a chuckle. I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s what is great about baseball. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life as many games as I’ve been able to be apart of. Just Javy, right? El Mago – that’s what it is.”
The move bought enough time for Contreras to round third and sprint home. Craig attempted a flip to catcher Michael Pérez, but Contreras slid under the tag while Báez took off for first. Pérez’s throw to first sailed past second baseman Adam Frazier attempting to cover the bag, allowing Báez to race to second.
“They say I improvise. I don’t know. At the moment I can react pretty fast to the things like contact and stuff like that. I’m pretty good at tagging and not letting people tag me.”
Báez scored moments later on a single by Ian Happ to give the Cubs a three-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Kris Bryant hit his 11th home run, and Patrick Wisdom added his first home run since 2018 for the Cubs, who have won eight of nine. Contreras, Bryant and Wisdom finished with two hits each.
Kyle Hendricks (5-4) overcame solo home runs by Perez, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds to win his third straight start. Hendricks allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Ryan Tepera worked 1 1/3 innings for his first save in three years.
Tyler Anderson (3-5) dropped his second consecutive decision thanks in part to Craig’s baffling decision and a little bit of bad luck. Anderson appeared to hit Wisdom leading off the fourth, a call that was reversed to a foul ball on replay. Four pitches later Wisdom sent a fly ball over the fence in left-center field to make it 4-0. The homer was Wisdom’s first in the major leagues since Sept. 15, 2018 when he played for St. Louis.
Anderson surrendered four runs — three earned — four hits and a walk with four strikeouts in five innings. Reynolds and Polanco went deep on back-to-back pitches from Hendricks in the fifth. Pérez, who came in hitting just .098, pulled the Pirates within one with a home run in the seventh.
Pittsburgh loaded the base in the eighth but couldn’t pull even and lost for the ninth time in 10 games. The Pirates are 6-20 since scratching above .500 at 12-11 a month ago.
Cubs: Held 1B Anthony Rizzo out of the lineup for a second straight day with lower-back tightness. Rizzo has been dealing with some stiffness recently and it popped back up again Wednesday morning.
Cubs: Return to Wrigley Field for a three-game set against NL Central rival Cincinnati on Friday. Adbert Alzolay (2-4, 4.30 ERA) gets the nod for Chicago.