When he’s on, watching Javier Báez play defense is one of the true joys of baseball. The Tigers shortstop is already legendary for his grace, athleticism and baseball IQ, regularly turning would-be hits into outs with highlight-reel tags, throws, catches and dives. Yet those special traits weren’t enough to turn a routine grounder into an out on Wednesday at Oracle Park, all thanks to a pesky broken bat.
With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the third, Tigers starter Rony García sawed off Evan Longoria’s bat with a 91.8 mph fastball on the hands. The ball dribbled out to shortstop, but the head of the bat — really the vast majority of the lumber — soared through the air, following the ball’s path with remarkable accuracy and landing just in front of Báez as he prepared to field the ball.
Báez ably dodged the flying splinter and corralled the ball, but he couldn’t avoid the bat a second time when it rolled under his feet. He tried to plant his back leg to throw but lost his balance and could only watch with his hands hanging dejectedly at his sides as Longoria arrived safely at first to load the bases. Just further proof of the adage that you never know what you’re going to see at the ballpark.
But all’s well that ends well: García retired the next two batters to stifle the threat and Báez tripled to lead off the fourth, eventually scoring on a Miguel Cabrera sac fly.