If Javier Báez is traded this week, at least he’s leaving Chicago Cubs fans with something to remember.
Báez’s walk-off, pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of Monday’s 6-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds was one of the wildest moments yet in this roller coaster season, thanks to lingering hostilities between the Cubs shortstop and Reds reliever Amir Garrett.
If this was the NFL, Báez would’ve been penalized for taunting before, during and after the play.
Báez, who was out of the starting lineup with a left heel bruise, already was jawing at Garrett when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of a tie game.
The two have a history and were in the middle of a bench-clearing incident on May 1 in Cincinnati when Báez hopped over the dugout fence after Garrett struck out Anthony Rizzo and pounded his chest in celebration while yelling at the Cubs first baseman.
Garrett did the same thing to Báez in a May 2018 game in Cincinnati and has also gotten into it with former Cub Kyle Schwarber in a 2019 game after a strikeout.
“If he really wants to fight us that badly, first of all, you’re in the wrong sport because this is baseball, we try to compete,” Báez said after the May 2021 incident. “I’m just tired of it. It doesn’t matter who would do it. Like, if you really want to fight then we go one on one. This is not a fighting game. This is not a game to be against someone, it’s about competing and winning games. ... He needs to respect the game. If you don’t respect the game and if you don’t respect us, then that’s going to happen. Because he’s doing it to us.”
Manager David Ross agreed with his player, saying it “kind of challenges your manhood” to be “disrespected” like that.
“This is a man’s game and those are things that I wouldn’t have stood for as a player, that’s for sure,” Ross said after that game. “I would have been the first one in line for that. I can’t do that anymore. That’s not the way that I think baseball is intended to go, but I think that’s his style. I don’t agree with it. I think it’s garbage, but he’s not on my team.”
Though Báez and Garrett moved toward each other, Reds third baseman Mike Moustakas stepped in and stopped Báez from going after the pitcher. No players were ejected, but Garrett received a 7-game suspension from MLB that was later reduced to five games upon appeal. Báez was fined.
Flash forward to Monday night, when Báez came off the bench to face his nemesis with the bases loaded and the Wrigley Field crowd on its feet in full throat.
Báez lifted the first pitch to deep center and continued taunting Garrett as the ball dropped in for a hit in the outfield. He made “sweeping” gestures with his bat as if to mock Garrett’s gesture of sweeping with a broom, then walked slowly to first base while yelling at Garrett as the Cubs’ on-field celebration continued.
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras followed his teammate up the line and seemingly encouraged Báez to get moving and touch the base for the run to officially score. Finally, Báez threw his bat down on the infield as Garrett walked off the mound staring at him. Garrett complained to an umpire, to no avail.
Reds manager David Bell declined to criticize Báez for his reaction.
“Just two highly, highly-competitive guys and both great baseball players,” Bell said on a postgame teleconference. “There’s a lot of emotions in this game, and to me, why add anything more to it? It might just be as simple as that. Just two guys that want to do well so bad, and there’s a lot of emotions involved.”
Reds first baseman Joey Votto also declined to fuel the feud.
“I’ve got no take on that,” he said. “I’m disappointed we lost such a close game, what felt like our game to win.”
Báez was unavailable for comment after the game. He did not appear on Zoom despite having the walk-off hit. The Cubs instead chose Nico Hoerner to speak to the media.
It was only one game in a lost season for the Cubs, but Báez’s display was one for the books.
“He’s the ultimate gamer,” starter Kyle Hendricks said. “He always wants to be out there, so there is no way of keeping him out of the box. One pitch gets the job done. That’s just who he is.”
The story isn’t over yet. With three games left in the series and a long-running feud between the two teams, who knows what will happen next?
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