Family feud: Báez, Berríos and a battle of brothers (in-law)

Detroit Tigers

TORONTO – The pose from Javier Báez on his follow-through lasted long enough for fans at Rogers Centre to take a picture, if they weren’t watching his first-inning drive soar toward the upper deck in left field. It was just foul, despite Báez optimistically pointing fair, but it was hit hard enough for Blue Jays right-hander José Berríos to whip around on the mound to get a look.

And you thought Sundays with the in-laws were boring.

“Javy is more than a player from the other team. He’s family,” Berríos said. “We have to enjoy and celebrate with him, too.”

It’s not just a nod from one Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native to another. They really are family. Though Berríos and Báez aren’t directly related, their wives are sisters. Their families are close.

“Obviously, it’s personal with him and the family,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said after the Tigers’ 4-1 loss. “Their holiday dinners will probably revolve around these at-bats. … The game within the game, obviously, but at the end of the day, they won.”

They’d faced each other twice before Sunday — once when Berríos’ Twins faced Báez’s Cubs in 2020, then when the Blue Jays visited Detroit last month. Not only was Báez 0-for-5 in their meetings, he hadn’t hit a ball out of the infield against his brother-in-law. 

Báez’s reaction on three foul drives down the left-field line showed how eager he was to correct that.

“We just try to have some fun and teach kids that were out there watching us, seeing how fun and how good we compete against [each other],” he said. ”Obviously, the family was there. They were really happy that they got to see us.”

Báez knows Berríos so well that, despite his tendencies to chase breaking balls, he could track the curveball and stay off of it diving off the plate. Nor did he get fooled on the changeup, though his bat flip and trot down the first-base line showed he lost track of the count on ball three in their first at-bat.

After sheepishly getting back in the box, Báez took another changeup, this one just off the plate, and drew ball four — for real this time — capping a nine-pitch at-bat that left Berríos smiling.

“I just had a really good approach,” Báez said. “His curveball has really big movement, so I really trust it to start behind me. Every time was really close. I almost swung at it, but after he threw me that changeup, it kind of changed my approach. I was seeing the slider, but I knew it was going to be close to a strike.”

It was a minor victory for Báez. His home run off Berríos in their next meeting to lead off the fourth inning was a bigger win. It was a rare opposite-field drive for Báez off a sinker over the middle of the plate.

“I was just trying to be focused on the fastball,” he said. “I was a little late there. It got all barrel, so it just went out. But it felt great to hit one out.”

Said Berríos: “When he hit the homer, I didn’t want to see his face because I didn’t want to be laughing, and that won’t look good on the mound. …

Berríos got his payback in the sixth inning, getting his brother-in-law on back-to-back curveballs — swinging and missing on one, flying out to right on another.

“On the fly ball, when I threw him a slider with two strikes and he hit a fly ball, I said something, and we were laughing,” Berríos said.

The home run was one of just three hits Berríos allowed in seven innings. He walked one and struck out six. It was no surprise to Báez.

“He knows what he can do,” Báez said, “and obviously, when he gets the lead from his teammates, it makes him comfortable to keep pitching the way he wants.”

That lead came in part from Tigers errors, two from Báez, who dropped a popup in short left field in the bottom of the fourth inning and had a throw in the dirt in the eighth.

“I was kind of confused on my communication,” he said on the popup. “I thought somebody was kind of closer to me, so I kind of rushed to get out of the way. But seeing the replay, there was nobody closer to me. It was just a mistake.”

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