Javier Baez is the most exciting player in baseball, and I don’t say that just because he plays for the team I support.
Baez has great instincts in just about every aspect of his game, and even though you’ll have to put up with the strikeouts that look really bad, he’s having an All-Star caliber season. Joe Maddon’s with me:
#Cubs Maddon on Baez: "Who's more exciting to watch than he is? ... He's in that top 10 kind of part of the Rat Pack from back in the day. You had to go to Vegas to see him. He's one of those guys -- he sashayed in with Sinatra and the boys. That's how he plays baseball"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 4, 2018
That all shined through in the fourth inning of the Cubs’ 5-2 win over the Tigers Wednesday afternoon, their sixth consecutive victory.
First, the Cubs once again spotted their opponent a lead. This is pretty remarkable: During the six-game winning streak, the Cubs have trailed at some point in every one of the games. A solo homer by Nicholas Castellanos in the first inning off Jose Quintana gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
One inning later, David Bote tied it up on one swing of his own [VIDEO].
That ball: Roped!
That’s a screaming line drive, and it landed in the juniper bushes in front of the bleacher suite. Now, someone from the grounds crew will probably go through there this evening trying to find the ball for Bote, but there are other baseballs in those bushes, mostly from batting practice, so I hope they find the right one. Fun fact about Bote’s first homer:
First career MLB HR hit on July 4th#Cubs history (1876-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 4, 2018
David Bote 2018
Bob Will 1957
Toby Atwell 1952
Tim Donahue 1895 (gm 2 of DH)
Bill Everitt 1895 (gm 1 of DH)
The Cubs went down 2-1 on yet another solo homer in the third, this one by John Hicks.
And one inning after that, Javy did himself some Javy. He led off with a single, and ... well, watch [VIDEO].
Javy got himself picked off, but wound up safe at second on a bad throw, and then took third when the throw went into center field. Then Addison Russell walked, and Addy and Javy pulled off a similar scheme to what Contreras and Baez had done a few weeks ago in New York. Addy drew a pickoff throw and as soon as Francisco Liriano committed to throwing to first, Javy took off for the plate. His slide was, as are so many of his slides, a thing of beauty. He slid around James McCann’s tag and slapped his hand on the plate just before McCann finally tagged him. Facts about Javy’s steal of home:
Javier Baez just stole home for the second time this season.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 4, 2018
He's the fifth player to do so in the last 10 seasons.
Juan Pierre, 2010 CWS
Elvis Andrus, 2011 Tex
Jacoby Ellsbury, 2016 NYY
Travis Jankowski, 2016 SD
No @Cubs player in the last 40 years has done it.#EverybodyIn
It’s actually been a lot more than 40 years:
Javier Báez: first #Cubs player to steal home twice in a season since Ted Savage in 1967— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 4, 2018
Baez is just so much fun to watch, in every aspect of his game. (Well, except for the strikeouts.) And he didn’t really have any defensive El Mago gems in this one, either.
So the game’s tied at 2, and Addy provided today’s web gem with one out and a runner on second in the top of the sixth [VIDEO].
That might have saved a run, and Quintana retired McCann for the final out of the sixth. He allowed five hits, three walks and two runs in six innings, his longest outing since June 11 and the Cubs’ first quality start (for whatever that flawed stat is worth) since Jon Lester turned one in on June 20.
Contreras quickly un-tied the game with one out in the sixth [VIDEO].
Willson’s seventh of the year gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead. With two out, Bote and Victor Caratini walked. Tommy La Stella had been on deck to bat for Quintana, but Joe wanted the “RBI guy” at the plate, so Anthony Rizzo batted for Q. He popped up to end the inning.
Anthony Bass relieved Quintana, and allowed hits to the first two batters he faced, a leadoff double and then a single to pinch-hitter Victor Martinez. That probably would have tied the game if not for this strong, accurate throw [VIDEO] by Albert Almora Jr.
Bass recovered to finish a scoreless inning with two strikeouts, though he finally issued his first walk of the season, which broke this string:
Anthony Bass has not issued a walk in his 1st 13 1/3 IP with #Cubs, a franchise record dating to at least 1907 (thanks Ed Hartig)— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 4, 2018
And then the Cubs put the game away in the seventh. A walk and a single put runners on first and second; one out later they advanced on an infield out, and that brought up Contreras [VIDEO]. Willson’s two-run double split the left-center field gap and made it 5-2.
Then it was up to the rest of the pen to save the three-run lead. Luke Farrell allowed a two-out double in the eighth, but allowed no runs.
Think about that. To protect a lead in the late innings, the Cubs called on Anthony Bass and Luke Farrell. Neither of those pitchers was on the Cubs’ radar as “late-inning setup man” when this season began. Nice work by those two, and at least Farrell is not likely to be around when some of the Cubs’ injured pitchers return from the disabled list.
Then it was Brandon Morrow’s turn in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single and then pinch-hitter Jim Adduci fought him through an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out. A force play and a fly to right ended it, and Morrow had his 19th save and the Cubs their sixth win in a row.
It wound up being much hotter at the ballpark than originally forecast; temperatures forecast in the upper 80s turned into mid 90s with high humidity, and some in the Chicago area saw spotty thunderstorms, but even though there were dark clouds around Wrigley (that at times provided sun cover, to cheers from the crowd), it didn’t rain at all.
At this writing the Brewers lead the Twins late in their game, so if that score holds up the Cubs will continue to trail the Brewers by one game in the N.L. Central. That’d be six straight losses by the Twins if that game finishes that way. Meanwhile, the Brewers likely won’t have as easy a time this weekend against the Braves, who come to Miller Park for a four-game series beginning Thursday.
The Cubs have Thursday off, their second off day this week, timed well to recuperate from this heat. Then the Reds come to town for their first Wrigley visit of 2018. Let’s hope these games go better than the 3-6 mark the Cubs posted in Cincinnati this year. Mike Montgomery will start for the Cubs Friday and his opponent will be Tyler Mahle. Game time Friday is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.