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Horning: Only baseball gives us moments like Javy Baez trying to steal home (from first)

Cubs Pirates Baseball

Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier, top, covers first as Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez slides safely across the bag last Thursday in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s go with Chicago’s Willson Contreras at second base, despite being picked off first by Pittsburgh pitcher Tyler Anderson.

Contreras reached second despite being picked off first, because Pirates first baseman Will Craig could not get the ball out of his glove and and throw it to second.

Javier Baez, the Cub at the plate when Contreras reached second, would soon be in motion himself.

It all happened last Thursday during a day game at PNC Park, which is as gorgeous a Pittsburgh monument as old Three Rivers Stadium was banal.

Perhaps you’ve read about it or, more likely, seen it, because any number of replays can be found quickly, most with headings like “Worst Play Ever,” “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me,” “Javy Baez bamboozles Pirates,” things like that.

I thought I’d take a crack at describing the lunacy. Make a few points, too.

So Contreras is at second and Anderson is pitching to battery mate Michael Perez, who’ll figure in this madness, too. Baez is at the plate with an 0-2 count. There are two outs.

Baez bounces to Pittsburgh third baseman Erik Gonzalez, who throws wide to Craig at first, but not so wide he couldn’t catch it and tag Baez out if only Baez had continued running toward him.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Baez began to jog toward home plate because, as everybody knows, if a baserunner gets within 15 feet of first base, then runs back to the plate without being tagged, everything resets, the previous count is reinstated, it all starts over.

All right, none of that’s true, and were it, Craig wouldn’t have playfully jogged back toward home plate in pursuit of Baez, but really chased him.

Instead, Craig appeared in on the fun, knowing the whole time he would eventually tag Baez out or, failing that, jog back to first base, step on it and force him out or, should somebody want to cover first base, like second baseman Adam Frazier, throw him the ball and let Frazier force him out.

That didn’t happen either.

What happened was Contreras, as Baez and Craig played their playful game of tag, rounded third and headed for home and, just as Baez planted both feet inches above the left-handed batter’s box, Craig panicked, saw Contreras barreling toward the plate and flipped the ball to Perez, who reached too late to tag Contreras out.

All of it was hilarious, but what happened next may be the most hilarious.

Home plate umpire Ryan Additon and Baez, too, both of them, called Contreras safe. They really did, you’ve got to see it, and, while Conteras indeed beat the tag, was he really safe?

The play’s not over.

Just as Baez mirrored the umpire, calling Contreras safe, he remembered something crazy and interesting.

Nobody’d tagged him out, nobody’d stepped on first base to force him out and the only thing on the other side of home plate is the dugout, so he took off for first base a second time.

After Baez realized all this, Frazier’s light bulb moment arrived, too, that Baez is running to first base and somebody should probably cover the bag because Baez, who’s already played umpire, is unlikely to catch Perez’s throw and force himself out.

So Frazier takes off for first, Perez tries hitting him in motion and, for the second time on the same play, a Pirate threw wide to another Pirate trying to cover first base.

Baez, for no particular reason, reached first base with, of all things, a head-first slide and just before springing to his feet to run to second, though it’s very quick, calls himself safe.

Watch, you’ll see it.

Next, the throw from right fielder Gregory Polanco gets away from shortstop Kevin Newman covering second because of course it does and Baez takes off for third, where … actually, that doesn’t happen, that’s where it ends.

The throw got away from Newman, but Anderson backed him up and Baez stopped at second.

Remember Contreras, called safe by the umpire and Baez, too? You may think the crime was Craig joining Baez in the fun, allowing Contreras to cross. But that’s not right, that’s not his breach, or his glorious mistake.

Craig could have let Contreras cross home safely, could have let the cows come home, could have waited for Christmas and every other holiday … just as long has he tagged Baez out or stepped on first base before Baez stepped on it.

Contreras’ run would not have counted because a force is a force is a force is a force.

Craig knows this.

Frazier knows this.

Every single Pirate on the field, the seven players who touched the ball on the play and the center fielder and left fielder who didn’t, knew it, too.

The umpire knew it.

But they all forgot it because baseball is a crazy game and sort of regularly gives you wild, zany, weird, how-can-that-happen and I’ve-never-seen-that-before moments.

That’s because baseball’s more granular than broad and while that may have predestined its trailing the NBA and NFL on the national landscape, it’s also why it gives you moments those sports never do.

There aren’t that many ways to score a basket or touchdown, but a million to score a run.

This was an all-timer.

We may never see it again.

But the game’s real problem is the smaller crazy, weird and interesting moments are receding.

No longer are bunting, hitting and running, sacrificing, base stealing, contact hitting, rundowns or even plain old opportunistic base running regular parts of the game.

It’s all 100-mile-an-hour relievers, home runs and strikeouts.

Fantastic fielding remains, but less of it because fewer balls are in play.

Crazy defensive shifts can create moments fielders forget where they are on the field, which can be fun, but it’s not enough to replace what’s being lost.

So Javier Baez had a little fun last week, everybody lost their mind and it was fabulous.

Watch it while you can.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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