Javier Baez owns game, and Cubs own Cardinals in NLDS clincher

SHARE Javier Baez owns game, and Cubs own Cardinals in NLDS clincher
SHARE Javier Baez owns game, and Cubs own Cardinals in NLDS clincher

This is a story about the Cubs’ youth.

It’s one about their depth.

It’s about slick defense and power.

It’s about Javier Baez, something of a forgotten young man during the first two games of the Cubs’ National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

On a day when the Cubs’ starting shortstop, Addison Russell, was unable to play because of a hamstring injury suffered the night before, the Cubs knew they were good to go because of Baez.

All Baez, 22, did, from the No. 9 spot in the batting order, was launch a three-run homer in the second inning against veteran John Lackey to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead, setting the tone for a 6-4 victory that stands today as one of the biggest in franchise history.

It handed the young Cubs a three games-to-one triumph in the National League Division Series. Russell’s status is uncertain for the NLCS, and it’s a significant loss. But the Cubs are in good hands because of Baez’s good hands at shortstop.

And you know he’s capable of providing some pop as well on the big stage of the postseason. He proved that Tuesday night when he took a Lackey pitch to the opposite field and over the right field wall.

“I was ready for the fastball, he went away from the plate and I just went down and got it,’’ Baez, wearing goggles to shield his eyes from champagne spraying in the Cubs clubhouse, said. “It felt great. When I hit it I didn’t know if it was going out or not but it kept going.’’

When it hit the seats, Wrigley Field shook. The old ballpark shook throughout the game from a crowd of 42,411 that spent most of the late afternoon and early evening on its feet, but Baez’s blow must have topped Anthony Rizzo’s and Kyle Schwarber’s on the decibel meter. The Cubs had fallen behind 2-0 after two Cardinals at-bats, a stunning and ominous beginning that seemed to pin the crowd back.

Baez’s homer, which followed pitcher Jason Hammel’s two-out single, made everything right in the Cubs’ world again.

Baez raised his arms to the crowd as he ducked into the Cubs dugout. It had to be the greatest moment of his short career.

“Maybe. It might be,’’ he said. “But we’re not done yet. We still have a ways to go.’’

Baez’ year has been full of moments on the opposite end of the spectrum. He didn’t make the Opening Day roster, his 21-year-old sister died and he took a month-long leave of absence. When he returned, he broke a finger.

When Russell went down Monday, Baez entered the game and contributed two hits (he also made a throwing error on a difficult play moving in and to his right). He had two more hits Tuesday and is 4-for-5 in his first postseason.

“I feel relaxed when I play,’’ he said. “For me, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how many years you have in the game, it’s the same game. You have to respect it.’’

Baez’s performance was “fabulous,’’ manager Joe Maddon said.

“I asked him to own the game tonight, just own the game like you do. I’ve seen him him playing winter ball, and how comfortable he was and I’ve seen it this year, too. My advice to him was to just own the game, and he kind of did.’’

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