In the early afternoon on Thursday, I was out for a run. I got a phone call from my father, who was sitting in the stands at PNC Park, watching the hometown Pittsburgh Pirates play the Chicago Cubs. My dad was in a huff. He needed to tell me that he had just witnessed “one of the worst baseball plays I’ve ever seen in my life.” I was skeptical, but then I pulled up a video of the play. He wasn’t exaggerating. You need to see what the Pirates did to believe it:
The Magician. pic.twitter.com/yZX7HgUFCU
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 27, 2021
With two outs in the top of the third inning and a man on second base, the Cubs’ Javier Báez hit a routine ground ball to third base. The Pirates’ third baseman, Erik Gonzalez, threw slightly off line to first base. No big deal, ordinarily. First baseman Will Craig caught the ball and went to tag Báez out. It happens all the time. Báez, not content to be tagged out, stopped and turned back toward home plate.
“This is pretty cute,” you might think while watching the whole thing unfold.
The logical next step would be for Craig to simply turn around and touch first base, which would end the inning. Báez was running back toward home plate, where a runner cannot be safe.
While all that was happening, the runner on second base––the Cubs’ catcher, Wilson Contreras––kept chugging around the bases and made a break for home. While Craig stalked Báez back toward the plate, he noticed Contreras sliding into home and threw the ball just too late to get him out. Báez even took the time to make an emphatic “SAFE” motion with his arms.
Of course, Contreras had crossed home plate, but he hadn’t actually scored yet. There were two outs in the inning, and Báez still hadn’t reached first base. If the Pirates would simply get the ball to first base and touch the base before Báez arrived, the run wouldn’t count, and the inning would still be over. It would be kind of embarrassing, but the Pirates would be saved by the rules of baseball, which state that a runner can’t score when the third out is made on a force play.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. The Pirates’ first baseman, Craig, had left his station, and there was nobody there to catch a throw from catcher Michael Perez. Second baseman Adam Frazier ran to the base, and Perez lobbed a ball in his direction, but it went into the outfield. That gave Báez not just first base, but time to run to second base and put himself in scoring position while the Cubs’ dugout laughed hysterically. In this moment, the whole world was Anthony Rizzo:
If you didn't see whatever the hell that play just was in the Cubs game, please let Anthony Rizzo's reaction sum it up for you: pic.twitter.com/pZFVDAkXxW
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) May 27, 2021
With the inning extended, Báez scored on the next at-bat, when the Cubs’ Ian Happ knocked him in with a single. The Pirates wound up losing by a final score of 5-3, meaning the two runs resulting from this fiasco were decisive. To rub even more salt in the wound, Happ is a Pittsburgh native (and my old high school classmate!) who grew up a Pirates fan.
I’m a Pirates fan myself. This team has been horrendous for most of my life, but the last week sums up the Pirate experience better than any other. Last Friday, I went to a game in Atlanta, where the Pirates were playing the Braves. I witnessed my hometown team lose by a whopping 20–1. A bad game, but not rock bottom: I’d actually seen the Pirates lose by a wider margin (20–0) in 2010, when I was in high school. Nothing could be more embarrassing than that.
Until the Pirates outdid themselves yet again.
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