Stealing home is one of my favorite plays in baseball. It’s so intense. It has to be timed perfectly. Or maybe I’m obsessed with this play because I grew up in the age of The Sandlot. Whatever it is, it’s a perfect baseball play and for most of my life as a Cubs fan it was a play that was missing from my favorite team’s highlight reel.
Enter stage left: Javier Baez.
Javy Baez is the first Cub to steal home since Starlin Castro did it in 2010. Baez has done it three times, including this ridiculous play against the Pirates last year and this web gem against the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS that you probably remember fondly.
Today’s steal of home was different, though. The last two times Javy stole home it felt a bit like he got caught and had no other choice. It felt like he should have been out, but he decided to make something happen. Today, was part of a plan.
I know you want to see this again as much as I do, so let’s start with the tape [VIDEO]:
But this play is incredible in a bunch of different ways, so let’s break this one down a bit.
In order to do that, first we have to rewind a little.
Before Javy stole home a couple of things happened that set the play up perfectly. First, Steven Matz is clearly worried about Javy as a runner, because he makes an effort to keep him on first. He throws over once and fakes a throw a second time, it’s not like Matz doesn’t know Javy can run.
So it’s sort of incredible that when Javy gets to third on a Willson Contreras single, Matz is still obsessed with the runner on first rather than the runner on third. Maybe this is a left handed pitcher thing. The Cubs clearly knew this was an issue, because Willson sets up this play by deking a steal. This is Willson on the basepaths the pitch before Javy steals home:
Here’s the bottom line: Willson could have easily taken second. Matz wasn’t even pretending to pay attention to him. But Willson wasn’t trying to steal. He was trying to draw Matz’s attention to first to set up what was about to happen, and every part of this is brilliant. Here’s Willson in the postgame from the Athletic:
“I was on first base and Javy gave me a sign to take a bigger lead,” Contreras said through a translator. “At that point I knew exactly what he was thinking. On the first pitch I did a fake steal which I think prompted the throw over on the second pitch. It worked out. The thing about Javy is he’s got great instincts and it helped us out a lot. He has the best instincts as a baserunner, he’s nothing but great for this team.”
With that background, Javy gonna Javy, and here we go:
The field is set. Javy and Willson are at the corners, but more importantly they are already in the head of Steven Matz. Matz had been worried about Javy, now all he can think about is Willson and that’s a mistake with Javy at third base.
Javy starts casually strolling home. He’s watching Matz intently, trying to figure out if Matz is going to be distracted by Willson at first. He’s still plenty close to the third base bag to get back if Matz decides to pay attention to him.
Matz makes a mental error. He’s clearly worried about Willson, so Matz decides to show Willson he’s paying attention to him at first. This is a bit mind boggling. Even though Willson is dancing around a bit, he’s a maximum of five feet off the bag at any time and Javy is breaking for home, but Matz is only paying attention to Willson. Here’s a better view of how little of a threat Willson is as Matz throws over:
This throw is not particularly quick or urgent. Mickey Callaway said as much in his postgame interview. This is hard to capture in screenshots, it’s easiest to see in how slowly the ball transfers play to play, so indulge me for a bit through a series of screenshots that show how far Javy gets down the line between the throw and the relay home. Keep in mind from above, that when he breaks for home he’s about 1/5 of the way there.
The ball still hasn’t left Matz’s hand. Javy is in full on break to home mode. This is bad news for the Mets.
Javy is hustling down the line, the ball has been lobbed to first.
The ball is making it’s way to first, Javy is almost halfway to home. Did I mention that when the ball gets to first the guy who is going to make the relay is Adrian Gonzalez? Things are looking good for Javy.
Willson is barely off first base as Gonzalez catches the ball. In fact, Willson would be dead to rights if anyone was paying attention to him and decided to tag him out, but all eyes are on Javy now, and Gonzalez is going home.
For reference, here is the aerial shot of Javy’s location as Gonzalez throws home:
This is where you start to get an idea of exactly how slow Matz threw to first. Javy has covered most of the distance between third and home before the relay is thrown to the plate. Take another look:
By the time the ball is back in the shot, Javy is making a move to slide home. I can’t stress enough how unbelievably slow the throw to first had to be for this to be a thing. Javy made it two-thirds of the way to home on the lob throw to first. That’s incredible scouting by the Cubs, but even with that information, I imagine having Willson and Javy on the basepaths to pull this off was a bit of a perfect storm. The Cubs basically had their kamikaze duo at the perfect time to exploit a Matz weakness.
Javy is already in the middle of a perfect Javy slide as the ball finally arrives home. He’s obviously safe, but I’m sure you want to see the coup de grace as much as I do.
Javy is safe by a mile as Kevin Plawecki turns towards home in the hopes of tagging him.
The Cubs dugout was understandably fired up by this play, but I love how they are mobbing Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde. Hyde was promoted to bench coach after Joe Maddon’s long-time number two, Dave Martinez became the manager of the Nationals. Hyde was clearly at the center of this play:
As Len Kasper said during the game, “They’re loving it in the dugout.”
Finally, what else can I say about Javy Baez? Despite going 3-for-12 during the series against the Mets he just continues to amaze. Saturday he hit a 14th-inning pinch hit bomb and Sunday he’s stealing home.
Just another day at the office for El Mago.
You can hear Javy discuss his incredible instincts [VIDEO] below. I’m just going to sit back and smile. I can’t wait to see what Javy will do next.