KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The tarp was barely down on the field when an angry Javy Baez reached the clubhouse, yanked off his shirt and dropped himself onto the couch.
“I was so mad,” said Baez, who moments earlier chased a slider nearly a foot outside for a strikeout with two men on base and the Cubs trailing by a run.
Teammate Pedro Strop didn’t like what he saw.
“I saw some attitude,” Strop said. “At first I said, ‘What’s wrong, bro?’ And he said, ‘Uh, well, blah, blah, blah.’
“I kind of screamed at him: ‘Wake up, man! Wake up! You the man. You got two more at-bats. You’re going to get two hits.’ ”
After the rain delay, the Cubs tied the game. Then Baez untied it with a home run in his next at-bat, and added an opposite-field double two innings later for another RBI in a 3-1 victory Monday night over the Royals.
Add Baez’s diving play behind the bag at third in the second inning for a highlight-reel out that saved a run, and that is why he will win the National League MVP award this year.
That may be slightly presumptuous with almost eight weeks left in the season.
But that game was a microcosm of Baez’s value this season to the team with the best record in the National League. The second baseman rebounded from a slow start to power the lineup and dazzled in the field while filling a need at third base for a night.
“He’s been that guy. He’s been that guy the whole time,” manager Joe Maddon said.
During a season in which Anthony Rizzo’s production has come and gone, and one in which Kris Bryant’s presence has come and gone, Baez has been the biggest bright spot for the Cubs this season.
And baseball fans across the country have recognized him with chants of “Javy! Javy!” for most of the season, and more recently morphing into chants of “MVP! MVP!” during the recent homestand and again in Kansas City this week.
It’s hard not to think about it with all the increased attention and MVP talk during his first All-Star season.
“Yes, it is,” said Baez, who got the same treatment from fans Tuesday night when he singled in his first at-bat and, back at second, made two over-the-shoulder catches in right field to rob the Royals of hits.
“I was like, ‘Damn, this is my first time here and they’re really yelling for it,’ ” he said. “I was kind of nervous and really happy for it.”
It’s only going to get louder if the Cubs’ recent history is any indication.
“It’s something you have to deal with,” said Bryant, who said he felt locked in throughout his 2016 MVP season until late when the MVP chants began. “Obviously, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s cool to get those chants and feel wanted like that. And at the same time it does kind of affect you a little bit.”
Neither Maddon nor Bryant seem to think it’ll cause any problem for Baez.
“He’s pretty good at tuning stuff out,” Bryant said. “That’s kind of what makes Javy Javy, that he does things his way, and it works unbelievably for him.”
MOST VALUABLE MAGIO
With less than eight weeks left, Javy Baez looks like the front runner in an otherwise wide-open MVP race in a wide-open National League. Here are the top candidates:
Javy Baez, Cubs, infielder
Baez has been by far the top everyday performer all season for the team with the best record in the NL. The All-Star starter at second base also has played 45 games at shortstop and third, bringing exceptional fielding to all three spots. That kind of defensive versatility is part of what put teammate Kris Bryant ahead of the field in the 2016 MVP race.
Christian Yelich, Brewers, outfielder
Yelich earned his first All-Star selection after being acquired from Miami during the winter — then he got hot. The league’s leading hitter has hit .438 with a .750 slugging percentage and 1.126 OPS in his last 26 games (entering Tuesday) for the team the Cubs haven’t been able to shake in the NL Central race.
Freddie Freeman, Braves, first base
The surprising Braves are getting a lot of attention for their fresh young talent, but Freeman has been the force and steadying influence in the middle of their lineup all year. He’s consistently one of the first two names mentioned in conversations with voters.
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals, infielder
Nobody has to tell Cubs fans how good Carpenter has looked lately, after his six-homer, 10-RBI series out of the All-Star break. The NL leader in homers and OPS could move up quickly on this list with a strong finish if the Cards shake their dysfunction and stay relevant.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies, third base
The best-fielding third baseman in the league finished in the top five in MVP voting the last two years, and he’s producing at a higher level this season for a team that has a chance to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Also keep an eye on: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Max Scherzer, Nationals; Aaron Nola, Phillies; Lorenzo Cain, Brewers; Max Muncy, Dodgers; A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks; Willson Contreras, Cubs; Eugenio Suarez, Reds.