The Cubtober Diary: Remembering “The Javier Baez Series”
CHICAGO – Even before his final blow to the Giants on Tuesday night, you could tell everything was coming up “Javi.”
It wasn’t one of the defensive plays that he made in the field during the 3th inning in Game 4. Instead it was the quickness of hands in the dugout that saved a mid-game snack.
FS1 Cameras caught this light-hearted moment in the dugout as Baez tried to get a piece of candy or gum between innings. He lost his handle as he tried to open the sugary treat and it almost fell on the ground.
But the sure-handed infielder managed to keep the gum from hitting the dugout floor and eventually gained control. With a bit of showmanship, Baez then pointed towards the two cameras he saw and gave them a grin as to let them know that indeed he caught it.
When it’s your series, it’s your series.
Over the course of the first four Cubs’ playoff games against the Giants in the National League Division Series, no one was better.
“It seems like he did something every night to help us win,” said Cubs starter Jon Lester – and he was the first the infielder helped out in Game 1.
His eight-inning gem was on the verge of being wasted thanks to a worth outing opposite of him by San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto. Baez was able to put the pitcher into the win column when he blasted a pitch into the left-to-right field wind and ever so gently dropped it into the basket for the game-winning homer. It was one of two hits he had off Cueto that evening when the Cubs were struggling dearly for baserunners over eight inning.
“Obviously in big moments with how loud the crowd is, I’ve been learning how to control the game and slow it down,” said Baez after Game 1 – and he used that skill over the next three contests as well.
While his .375 average and six hits contributed a bunch it was the defensive plays that Baez made at second base that made him one of the MLB playoffs early stars. It started in Game 3 with a diving stop in center on a hit by Conor Gillaspie in which he caught, whipped around on his back foot and then threw to first for the out. Anthony Rizzo’s foot may have looked like it came off the bag, but a replay held up.
In the third inning the next night a similar situation played out as Baez snagged a hit up the middle by Denard Span. With the same backfoot spin and throw Baez was a little late on this throw to get the speedy runner who ended up safe by half a second. Still the play was so good that Span tipped his helmet to Baez who was standing between first and second.
“I was playing pretty deep, and I was surprised I got to that ball and even more surprised that it was that close,” said Baez of the play.
Maybe he shouldn’t have done that because a few minutes later Baez applied his now famous whip tag to Span on a steal attempt to send the runner back to the dugout. Yet he wasn’t done on this night.
After a remarkable three-inning rally in the ninth against the Giants’ weary bullpen, Baez was the one who sent the Cubs to the National League Championship Series. His sixth and final hit of the series rolled into center field to bring home Jason Heyward for the go-ahead run that sealed a 6-5 win.
With the goggles on his head, Baez was happy to share in the celebration that represented an incredible comeback for 23-year old who was demoted to the minor leagues for a significant part of 2015. Overcoming injuries and the tragic death of his sister in April of 2015 due to Spinal Bifida, Baez is now the toast of the team that is the same for the town in which the team is making history in 2016.
“I didn’t give up,” said Baez on Wednesday when reflecting on the past two years. “I kept working and working till I felt like I had everything together and now I’m here.”
Leading the way for a one-in-a-century Cubs team with his bat, glove, and candy-catching reflexes.