This piece, written by Baseball Prospectus’s Meg Rowley, forms part of the main site’s comprehensive coverage of the postseason, “Playoff Prospectus”.
I can’t imagine becoming suddenly, publicly bad at something. Not that I can’t imagine being suddenly bad at something; I just can’t imagine that newfound badness mattering much to anyone. Our failures have consequences, but rarely do we have to answer for them in the village square. Sustained failure is the stuff that gets us fired, or dings our credit rating. It becomes a fact of our biographies that we aren’t proud of and may elect to fib over at Thanksgiving, but after the uncomfortable shifting in our chairs is over, people forget. You care that you lost your job, but your paperboy doesn’t.
This wasn’t a good year for Jason Heyward. It wasn’t a good year on its own terms, with Heyward hitting a paltry .230/.306/.325, and it wasn’t a good year relative to the expectations he carried after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract last December. He was benched in favor of Albert Almora, Chris Coghlan, and Jorge Soler at various points this postseason. His bat was so bad, it wasn’t worth keeping in the lineup when paired with his defense.
When you consider Heyward relative to all the baseball players in the world, he is still one of the very best, but you could call his 2016 a failure if you wanted to put a bit of venom behind it. Which is why it had to feel good to be good last night. Because last night, Jason Heyward was good.
In the first inning, he was fast until other people’s feet got in the way.
In the third inning, he was Spider-Man.
We could quibble about how necessary it was to scale the wall in the first place, when standing on the field might have done just as well. But why quibble, when we could just look at how cool and baseball-y he seems doing this. Think about making that adjustment. Think about seeing Trevor Bauer hit a foul ball and pondering, “What if I just went up and got it?” Think about being that cool and baseball-y. Heyward’s defense has been his saving grace this year, and with his team facing elimination, it was good enough on this play to make Bauer clap and smile.
His catch at the wall made him Spider-Man, but maybe more welcome was his hit in the eighth, when he was just a baseball player. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat he sent a fastball into center field, like he was supposed to have been doing all year, and when finally on base, Heyward stole second and third. The steals were for not. The Cubs would not score. But able to contribute a hit, Heyward did all he could to contribute more, to show that on this night, he was good.
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Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.