LOS ANGELES — Whether anybody else in the Cubs’ clubhouse feels an extra charge of emotion when they play at Dodger Stadium, infielder Javy Baez definitely does.
“L.A. is a huge rival for a lot of people here,” said the co-MVP of the Cubs’ pennant-winning playoff series win over the Dodgers in 2016. “We all want to compete all the time no matter who we play against, but a team like this that we’re going to face a lot and hopefully in the playoffs, too, we’ve got to get used to these games.
“I like playing here. I like the energy.”
One night after the Cubs lost a 2-1 series opener to the Dodgers — running their losing streak to five games — Baez almost single-handedly ended the skid with a four-hit night that included two home runs and a double to beat the Dodgers 9-4 on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.
The second homer — a two-out grand slam — capped a six-run sixth inning for the Cubs, who have struggled the past few weeks to score even three runs.
Baez missed a carer-high three home runs by the margin of the few feet his first-inning double off the right-field wall missed clearing it.
“I was just trying to get my timing down today,” said Baez, whose team-leading 16 home runs are three off the National League lead. “After the first pitch I realized it was good. I was seeing the ball good.”
Baez’s fourth career grand slam pushed his RBI total for the night to a career-high five.
He moved to third in the National League with 56 RBIs this season, just two off the league lead.
“Listen, I’ve been saying it for a couple years, the moment he stops swinging at sliders in the dirt, he becomes Manny Ramirez,” manager Joe Maddon said. “And he’s getting closer. Except I think he’s a better defender than Manny was. And baserunner. Manny, I still love you.’
And Baez, who started at third, also had the defensive play of the game when, after tagging out Cody Bellinger on a rundown play, he threw quickly to first base, behind Yasiel Puig, to get a double play.
“I saw him take two steps to second base,” Baez said. “I’m thinking he passed second, and I just want for it to get him in between.”
“That just goes back to Javy being Javy,” said starter Jon Lester (10-2), who said he didn’t think anyone in the park but Baez knew there was even a play at first. “He’s probably my favorite player to watch. I’ve got to play with and in front of some really good infielders in my career. I think Javy has surpassed all of those guys. Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia – just the athleticism and the ability to play all three primary infield positions and do it at a high level.”
Maddon: “There’s nothing he can’t do. He has his head on a swivel. He sees things that a lot of guys don’t. He reacts. That was a spectular game he had all over the map.”
Is Baez about to go Hollywood?
“I don’t really like the traffic,” he said. “But I love it here.”
The 15-hit, five-walk outburst by the Cubs — and highest scoring total since a 13-5 win over the Cardinals June 15 — coincided with a brief pregame meeting hitting coach Chili Davis called with his hitters. They’d scored three or fewer in 12 of their last 17 games before Tuesday.
“It was helpful, for sure,” Baez said. “We just talked about hitting, passing it to the next guy and taking our walks when we need to.”
The Cubs improved to 3-2 against the Dodgers this season with the win in the latest rematch of the last two NLCS.
“A win during the regular season is always good, don’t get me wrong,” said Lester, who became the NL’s second 10-game winner. “I’m not splitting hairs by any means, but we’ve got to beat them in the postseason. That’s a good team, and I’m sure we’ll probably see them if we get to that position like we have the last two years.
“That’ll be the test, the postseason, not now.”
Lester allowed two runs on four hits in five innings — lifted early in the big sixth inning for a pinch-hitter when the score was 2-2.
He wasn’t happy about the move at the time, saying he could have gone a couple more innings and wanted to save the bullpen. But he said he respected the decision.
Lester won for the sixth consecutive start and seventh time in his last eight. He has a 1.92 ERA over those eight games.
He also improved to 5-1 after a Cubs loss this year.
“He’s been huge for us,” Baez said.