Pre-pitch plan allowed Chavis to make game-saving play

MILWAUKEE – Watch the play, and it looks like Michael Chavis not only makes a fantastic diving stab to his left of Rowdy Tellez’s scorching grounder down the first base line, but then makes the split-second decision to throw to the plate and ultimately retire William Contreras for the double play that sealed the Nationals’ 2-1, 11-inning victory over the Brewers late Sunday afternoon.

Listen, though, to Chavis’ detailed breakdown of the unconventional, 3-2 double play, and you realize it was anything but a spur-of-the-moment decision by the fill-in first baseman.

“That’s one of the cases where the preparation really pays off,” he said.

The scenario: The Brewers had runners on the corners with one out in the bottom of the 11th, needing to plate one run to extend the game, two runs to win it. The left-handed-hitting Tellez was at the plate. The left-handed-throwing Robert Garcia was on the mound. And the right-handed-fielding Chavis was at first base, having entered the game two innings earlier to pinch-run for Dominic Smith and then subsequently taken over his position in the field.

As Tellez made his way toward the batter’s box, Chavis did what any good defensive player does and asked himself what he would do if the ball was hit to him. Except he broke it down in even more detail than that, considering how his play might be different depending on where precisely the ball was hit.

“It’s a pretty big play, so I literally went through … if I dive to my left, I’m stepping on the bag and going home. If I dive to my right, I’m going straight home,” he said. “I couldn’t step on the bag and go to second, because I was worried about the (runner on first) getting in a rundown, and the run scoring. So, I was literally just going through every possible outcome that went through (my mind).”

Chavis’ conclusion after all that? He was hoping for the diving play to his left.

“Honestly,” the 28-year-old said with a smile, “when I was thinking about it, I was thought that might be the most fun one.”

It certainly was. Tellez scorched Garcia’s 1-1 slider, the ball coming off his bat at 102.8 mph, heading straight down the first base line. If it got past Chavis, it would at minimum score the tying run and potentially score the winning run if it made it all the way down into the right field corner.

Chavis, though, never let it get to that. He instinctively dove to his left and snagged the ball. Then, having already played out in his mind what he would do if such a scenario presented itself, he calmly stepped on first for the first out and then looked to the plate and prepared to throw.

There was, however, a brief pause when Chavis looked up and saw Contreras stopped about halfway down the third base line. He went ahead and threw to the plate, where Drew Millas caught the ball and turned to tag Contreras, who was nowhere close. So Millas did as you’re supposed to do and ran directly at Contreras, chasing him back toward third base and ultimately applying the tag long before the runner ever made it back.

In real time, it all happened so fast. For the man making the play, it didn’t seem like it.

“It felt pretty much normal, which is a good thing,” Chavis said. “Because when you prepare for those moments, nothing really speeds up on you. That’s the whole thing we’re trying to do: Slow the game down, because it’s so fast, the pace, especially with the pitch clock. The fact that something like that’s in the 11th inning, and I was able to slow down the moment, I think that’s pretty significant. And something I’m proud of.”

Truth be told, Chavis has been one of the least-used players in the major leagues this season. He’s been part of the Nationals’ roster for all 150 games to date, but he has appeared in only 47 of them and taken only 96 plate appearances. He has 22 hits, five of those for extra bases, has driven in five runs and scored 15. His .629 OPS is nothing to get excited about.

Chavis’ value to the Nats, and the reason he’s stayed on the roster the entire year, is his versatility. He has played five different positions (second base, third base, first base, left field, right field). He has pinch-run 14 times, including Sunday.

“That’s something I take pride in: Just being available,” he said. “It’s something that kind of goes unnoticed, for sure. But I’m just trying to keep my body loose, my head in the game, whatever I can. So that when my name is called for pinch-running, for defense, for pinch-hitting, whatever the situation is, I’m as ready as I can possibly be.”

Had things gone according to plan, Chavis’ pinch-running would’ve made the difference Sunday and he would’ve scored the winning run in the ninth. Instead, he found himself replacing Smith both at first base and as the Nationals’ cleanup hitter. Which meant he was at the plate with two outs in the top of the 11th, mad at himself when he struck out to end the inning.

Fortunately, there was still time to make a difference in the field. And when he did just that, Chavis was able to celebrate the moment with his teammates, appreciating the fact he had delivered for the Nats by being available, by mentally preparing himself for the situation and then by making the play that saved the game.

“Baseball’s funny, man,” he said. “It would be so easy after that last at-bat to be like: ‘Dang, that sucks,’ and not let it go, and let it affect you on defense and not be totally focused. So, it’s really cool that I was able to flip it and be able to help the team win that way.

“I’m not getting a whole lot of at-bats right now, so if I can help the team win – whether it’s baserunning, making a play on defense, or just being available to help the team in the clubhouse – I’m really just trying to do whatever I can to help out.”

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