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ST. LOUIS — The Reds have a handy new rule for the rest of 2023 and beyond: Tie goes to the Elly. 

OK, so it’s not one of those official new MLB rules, but it is a new way of life in Cincinnati, now that budding superstar Elly De La Cruz has finally made his MLB debut. Because, as was on full display in Sunday’s victory at Busch Stadium, in pretty much any bang-bang play on the base paths involving De La Cruz, the speedy youngster is going to be safe.

“He’s the fastest human I’ve ever seen on the baseball field,” teammate Jonathan India said.

MORE: Where Elly De La Cruz’s speed ranks in baseball

De La Cruz’s bat caught the baseball world’s attention in his first two days as a major league player, and for good reason. In his second game in the majors, he hit his first home run, a jaw-dropping 458-foot shot.

And that was after his first-game double that had an exit velocity of 112 mph. So it’s understandable that much of the baseball world was focused on those bright and shiny statistics.

But those who watched De La Cruz through the minors knew that was only part of the story, only part of the reason most think he’s destined to be a superstar in the bigs. 

In the first inning on Sunday, De La Cruz stepped into the box against Adam Wainwright with two outs and hit a chopper to first baseman Brendan Donovan, who fielded the ball cleanly. Wainwright immediately recognized the situation and ran toward first base, just like he has hundreds of times in his 18-year big league career. 

Watching the two runners barreling toward the first-base bag was really something to behold, one chugging, one flying. Tie goes to the Elly, folks. He reached the bag a fraction of a second before the pitcher.

I asked De La Cruz after the game if he knew he had a chance to beat Wainwright.

He smiled. “I say, I can get it.”

FOSTER: Elly De La Cruz, Michael Harris II show fragile relationship between excitement and patience

It’s not the first time this series a Reds runner has beaten a throw to first base. In Saturday’s game Stuart Fairchild stunned the stadium when he beat out a cleanly fielded chopper to third baseman Nolan Arenado. That sprint led to a bases-clearing double for Cincinnati, a huge moment in the Reds’ victory. Before Sunday’s game, I asked the fleet-footed Fairchild whether he’s ever raced De La Cruz. 

“No, and I don’t think I want to do that,” he said with a laugh. “Yeah, that man is unbelievably fast. Just glides with those long strides. It’s impressive.”

In his second at-bat, De La Cruz laced an RBI single to center field with two outs, a shot with an exit velocity of 109.4 mph, the hardest-hit ball by any player all game.

In his third at-bat, De La Cruz walked with one out in the sixth, then immediately stole second base, his third in six games in the bigs. He moved to third on a fly out to center, then scored on a looper single by Tyler Stephenson. 

No stolen base, no run. 

“Good player,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol said after the game. “He used his speed appropriately in a couple different ways and beat us.”

The rookie was saving the best for later, though. With the game tied 3-3, De La Cruz walked to lead off the eighth inning, moved to second on a ground out and to third on a passed ball. It didn’t get far beyond Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras, who fired down to third, thinking he might have had a chance to catch a “normal” runner.

It wasn’t particularly close.

So that speed led to this situation: With a tie game in the eighth inning and one out, the Cardinals played the infield in, with all four infielders on the grass. It’s the correct move, of course. With De La Cruz on third, the Reds had the contact play on, meaning De La Cruz was to take off for home immediately on any ground-ball contact. 

The idea is that, as long as the ball isn’t hit sharply right at an infielder — basically, any sort of variation from an at’em ball — the runner from third has a chance to score. Well, Stephenson hit an at’em ball with an exit velocity of 94 mph, right at shortstop Paul DeJong, a defense-first player with a strong arm. DeJong was positioned a few steps onto the grass. 

De La Cruz was off on contact. A normal runner should have been out, and it shouldn’t have been close. Baseball lifers have seen it happen over and over.

“I think my instincts did tell me (he’d be out), but not in that situation,” Cincinnati manager David Bell said. “I knew we had a chance because of the speed.”

Yeah. Remember the new rule? 

Tie goes to the Elly.

Knowing he had no margin for error, DeJong rushed the throw and made a mistake. He yanked the throw to the first-base side of the plate, and Contreras couldn’t handle the ball as he rushed to make the tag.

De La Cruz slid in safely, and the Reds led 4-3. That was the final score.

MORE: Shohei Ohtani trade decision made difficult with Angels in playoff limbo

It’s impossible to say whether the Cardinals would have properly executed if there was a normal runner at third base, going home on the contact play. But what we know for sure is that the runner was not normal, and the Cardinals did not execute. 

De La Cruz has now played six games in the majors. He has a .364 average, .481 on-base percentage and a 1.117 OPS, with three extra-base hits (double, triple, homer), four RBIs and those three stolen bases. 

Oh, and one other skill he showed off Sunday in the Reds’ win: Playing third base, he fielded a slow chopper from Paul Goldschmidt deep on the infield and uncorked a throw at 96.6 mph, the hardest throw by any infielder in baseball this season. 

“He’s a really fun player to watch, and even a better dude,” said Reds starter Hunter Greene, who had nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. “Really happy to have him on this team.”

The Reds are 4-2 since De La Cruz’s arrival, and they’re now just four games out of first place in the very winnable NL Central, despite just a 31-35 record.

Cincinnati is going to give De La Cruz a chance to make an impact on the race.

“He’s gonna play a lot,” Bell told me before Sunday’s game. “He’s gonna play quite a bit of third base, play a lot of short. Just kind of let him go, let him play.”

If the Reds are anywhere close to first place in the last couple of weeks of the season, you know they’ll feel good about their chances. Why? 

Because, y’know, tie goes to the Elly.



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