A towel wrapped around his waist, Pedro Strop stood in the middle of the clubhouse in flip-flops and said aloud: “How tough is it to have a superstar next to your locker?” The overflowing crowd also forced Hector Rondon to wait out all those reporters surrounding a player wearing a bedazzled camouflage T-shirt with a cross on the chest: “Every f---ing night.”
The blueprints for the $600 million Wrigley Field renovation didn’t include a theater just for Javier Baez press conferences. But those two good-natured Cubs relievers can see how this is trending now. Someone who manager Joe Maddon didn’t consider an everyday player during the regular season is now becoming the center of attention in the playoffs.
The Baez Show ran again on Sunday night, even during a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers that tied up this best-of-seven National League Championship Series. Whatever anxiety you might feel as a Cubs fan for however many years, this is how Baez views the next three games at Dodger Stadium.
“We can win all of them,” Baez said. “We know we’re the best. We got the best team out there. (But) you got to play the game.”
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Baez stopped Clayton Kershaw’s perfect Game 2 in the fifth inning with a two-out, line-drive single into left-center field, giving him a hit in all six postseason games (9-for-23). Baez came close to matching his big swing that beat San Francisco Giants ace Johnny Cueto in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, driving a 93-mph Kershaw fastball out to the warning track in center field, leaving Anthony Rizzo stranded and ending the seventh inning.
“I’ve been having fun the whole year,” Baez said. “And I’m doing the same thing here. I haven’t changed anything. I’m just having fun and trying to help my team.”
The night after becoming the first Cub to steal home plate in a postseason game in 109 years, Baez again showed off his sixth sense by allowing Joc Pederson’s broken-bat flare to hit the edge of the outfield grass, initiating a sixth-inning-ending 4-6-5-6 double play.
“He sees things, man,” Maddon said. “He’s like a good running back – he just sees the whole field. Or (a good) point guard – he sees the court. He just sees everything. He’s got that gift.”
The action is more exciting. The fans are louder. The media herds around his locker are bigger. But to Baez, it’s still the same game, even if he’s thinking several moves ahead of his teammates, and the entire baseball world is now watching.
“I love it,” Baez said. “I’m pretty sure everybody here wants to be loved by the fans and all the people in Chicago. I’m just doing my job.”