Cubs third baseman David Bote charged down the line and called off pitcher Alec Mills.
Bote snagged the bunt with his bare right hand and slung it across is body. Bote’s throw to first beat the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi by half a step.
“It does nothing but fire you up,” Mills said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win over the Royals on Monday.
Bote had been filling in for Kris Bryant at third for the previous two games, but when Bryant returned on Monday, Bote remained in the lineup. Even as a role player, Bote entered Monday's series opener with a top-5 batting average (.278) on the team and tied for second in RBIs (5). But Cubs manager David Ross also trusted him in the infield with a groundball pitcher on the mound. Bote’s defense shone.
It stood out even in a game that included an outstanding tag by shortstop Javier Báez to catch a runner stealing and Jason Heyward covering a ton of ground in right field.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Ross said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized that could be better, and it’s been so great. These guys are getting a lot of work in.”
This time, Bote knew long before the game that he was playing. On Saturday, when Bryant was a late scratch due to an upset stomach, Bote found out five minutes before first pitch that he was starting at third base.
On Monday, Bote remained at third, and Bryant started in left field. That setup put extra speed in left on a windy day and allowed Kyle Schwarber, who had played in left for the past three games, to be the designated hitter.
Bote worked with bench coach Andy Green on slow-rolling ground balls before the game, according to Ross.
“This is one of the teams that bunt a lot in this league,” Báez said, “and we were ready for it.”
Bote proved that with a bare-handed grab seventh inning, when the Cubs were protecting a one-run lead. He threw out Mondesi for the final out of the inning. But then, he made another bare-handed play the next inning.
Bare-handing a bunt and throwing across the body on the run is a play exclusive to third basemen. The downside of playing multiple positions is a utility man like Bote has to spread his receptions out among those positions.
Bote had attempted a bare-handed play once before in the season, but he didn’t field it cleanly – there’s a reason infielders use their gloves whenever possible. The margin for error is so much smaller without them.
In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield hit a weak ground ball to Bote. The third baseman charged, fielded the ball with his right hand, and again threw across the diamond on the run. That was the second out of the inning.
“Both of those plays could have gone either way,” Bryant said of Bote’s bare-handed grabs, “and then there’s runners on base there. You don’t know how the game’s going to turn out.”
Case in point: Jorge Soler hit a single right after Bote’s eight-inning play. If Bote hadn’t thrown Merrifield out, he would be in scoring position with one out.
Instead, Rowan Wick took over for Casey Sadler on the mound and struck out the next batter to end the inning.
“It’s those little things in the games that don’t get too much attention,” Bryant continued, “but they definitely do change the momentum of everything out there.”