WASHINGTON, D.C. — Asked not long ago how special Javy Baez is, Joe Maddon brought up another name: Jon Lester.
To paraphrase the Cubs’ skipper: When a player with the experience of Lester is raving about Baez, you know he’s something special.
It doesn’t take a lot to realize that Baez can do things on a baseball field that few others can. The man nicknamed “El Mago” is pulling a new rabbit out of his hat each and every game, it seems, leaving even those the closest to him consistently wowed.
And, yeah, Lester thinks pretty highly of his Cubs and National League All-Star teammate, saying Monday that Baez is the best infielder he’s played with during his big league career, now in its 13th season.
“I think he is, probably, the best infielder I’ve ever played with. That speaks pretty highly,” Lester said the day prior to the Midsummer Classic in D.C. “I’ve played with some pretty good ones: (Dustin) Pedroia, Mike Lowell, (Adrian) Beltre at third. These guys are pretty special defenders and players, and I think Javy’s athleticism makes him above and beyond those guys.
“How athletic he is, how he’s able to control his body. There’s times in the game where you feel like it’s almost going backwards for him it’s so slow. And the stuff he’s able to do at the plate, defensively, you guys all see that. He’s a special player to watch. I’m just glad he’s on our side and we get to do it every day.”
Baez’s breakout campaign has him in the MVP discussion at the season’s midway point. And he’s one of the stars of these All-Star festivities, a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and the NL leadoff hitter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. While Cubs fans and observers have watched it all season long — Cubs teammate and fellow Derby participant Kyle Schwarber dubbed it “The Javy Baez Show” on Monday — these two days will put Baez on the national stage, one of the game’s biggest.
“I’ve seen him do some amazing things the past few years,” Reds second baseman and NL All Star Scooter Gennett said. “He couldn’t do anything that I’d be surprised (by). That’s just Javy doing some — what do they call him, ‘The Magician’ or whatever? — just doing some magic stuff. Nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen enough to be like, ‘Man, he’s extremely blessed and a really good baseball player.’”
“Javy is an electrifying player to say the least,” Houston Astros pitcher and American League All Star Gerrit Cole said. “Probably the most impressive thing outside of Javy’s glove work, which is just kind of magical in its own … I got to see him when he first came up and he knows how that first stint went in the major leagues and how he’s adjusted since he’s been there. And that’s probably the most important thing. He’s very flashy, he’s very flairy, which is great, is exciting, is attention grabbing. But his skill work and his talent is really what shines through, and he’s just a wonderful player and tough out.”
Though he paused, seemingly to take in the fact that Lester had such high praise for him, Baez himself said comparisons don’t mean much. It’s not a surprise from someone who has established himself as a unique talent not just in the current generation of ballplayers but perhaps throughout the game’s history.
“There’s a lot of comparisons with me. I just try to be myself, to be honest, out there, off the field, too,” Baez said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared to be them. I play the way I play because I do me. I do it the way I think. … I’m not trying to show anybody up. That’s the way I play, just me being me and trying to do the best for my teammates.”
The numbers and the highlight-reel plays have thrust Baez into the realm of baseball’s very best. His inclusion in the All-Star Game isn’t a surprise, it’s a necessity.
Baez said he’s hoping to learn a lot from this experience, and Lester, at his fifth All-Star Game, said the lesson should be a simple but important one.
“The biggest thing is — when I got my first All-Star Game, it makes you feel like you belong. It’s like, ‘I am pretty good,’” Lester said. “So I think to get rewarded for your hard work, to get to be able to do this, I think it’s kind of like the little pat on the back. Like, ‘Hey, good job.’ For me, it was like, ‘Maybe I am pretty good.’ It was like the big, eye-opening thing for me the first time I got to do this.
“Hopefully they (Baez and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras) see that, hopefully they feel like they are two of the best in the game and that just carries over to their game.”
On this day 18 years ago, former White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle made is MLB debut.
NBC Sports Chicago’s stats guru Chris Kamka tweeted out Buehrle’s debut.
Buehrle was just 21 years old when he got called up to the big leagues, and spent 12 seasons with the Sox. He also had stints with the Marlins and Blue Jays.
Buehrle was never an overpowering pitcher with his fastball in the high 80’s. He was also known for working quickly on the mound to keep hitters off balance.
That paid big dividends for the Sox hurler, as he’s known for tossing a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers in 2007 and MLB’s 18th perfect game against the Rangers in 2009, with both of those games coming at then U.S Cellular Field.
A big highlight from the perfect game, a lot will never forget is former Sox outfielder Dwyane Wise saving Buehrle’s perfect game with a ridiculous juggling catch in center field. Ever since then, “The Catch” has been engraved on the outfield wall in left center.
Besides the no-hitter and perfect game, Buehrle knew how to field his position. Eight years ago against the Indians on Opening Day, Buehrle kicked a ground ball off his foot into foul territory and to record the out, he flipped the ball between his legs to first basemen Paul Konerko who barehanded it and got the out.
Let’s just say that play was at the top for that season.
But, as for eating up innings, Buehrle did not shy away from showing his durability.
After his rookie season, Buehrle threw over 200 innings 14 consecutive seasons. In his tenure with the Blue Jays, he was just an inning and a third away from becoming the fifth pitcher in MLB history to record over 200 innings pitched in 15 straight seasons.
In his 16 years in the MLB, Buehrle finished with 214 wins and 160 losses, with a 3.81 ERA in 518 games and 493 starts over 3,000 innings. He won the 2005 World Series with the Sox, he also won the Cy young that year.
Buehrle appeared in five All-Star games, and he won four gold gloves, along with two pitcher of the month awards.
2005 was a good year to say the least for Buehrle. He finished the year at 16-8 with a 3.12 ERA which arguably could’ve been his best season in a Sox uniform.
His number 56 was retired by the Sox last season, becoming the 12th player in Sox history to have their jersey retired.
What a career it was for number 56.