The Pittsburgh Pirates went into Wrigley Field this week and won two out of three games against the two-time defending division champions in the teams’ first series of the year.
Without a doubt.
It just wasn’t the one the Pirates and their manager, Clint Hurdle, hoped to send.
In fact, when Hurdle became the latest “back in my day” old white guy from the Pirates organization to rip Cubs second baseman Javy Baez for not respecting the game, it was a message heard loud and clear by a team with 16 more shots at the Pirates this year.
“There’s no one that plays the game harder than me,” Baez said after the Cubs’ 6-1 loss to the Pirates in the series finale Thursday. “I bust my ass every day to get here and learn something.
“If anybody’s got negative stuff to [say to] me, they can save it.”
If a Cubs player has a right to hold a personal grudge against the Pirates, it might be Baez. He was an on-air target of Pirates pitcher-turned-broadcaster Steve Blass, who called Baez ‘‘difficult to root for’’ because of his ‘‘flashiness.’’
On Thursday, Hurdle called out Baez for flipping his bat high in frustration over a popup he hit between his two home runs in the Cubs’ blowout victory Wednesday.
‘‘Where’s the respect for the game?’’ said Hurdle, who also criticized Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for arguing with an umpire and related a story about how he learned respect for the game as a young big-leaguer.
As Baez talked with reporters after the game Thursday, teammate Anthony Rizzo raised his voice from across the clubhouse:
‘‘Four homers in two days, doesn’t respect the game!’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘Should have hit five, Javy.’’
With two homers in each of the first two games of the series, Baez became the first Cubs player since Alfonso Soriano 10 years ago with back-to-back multihomer games.
He also made a point Wednesday to chide himself for the bat flip. Teammate Pedro Strop took him aside after the game and told him how bad it was, and Baez said he learned ‘‘how ugly I looked on that [play]’’ and was disappointed in himself for ‘‘the way I looked for the kids and for everybody that follows me.’’
Baez is certainly flashy, and Contreras is beyond fiery. But to call either disrespectful or to insinuate selfishness is to not watch them play or to not know how they fit in a tightly knit clubhouse.
‘‘He’s a really good human being,’’ left fielder Kyle Schwarber, whose fourth-inning homer briefly tied the score, said of Baez. ‘‘He’s full of energy and he loves the game of baseball and he just kind of rubs off on everyone with the way that he goes about it.’’
‘‘Would you rather I toss that bat flip on a home run or a ball that I missed?’’ Baez said. ‘‘If you do that on a home run, you’re in trouble; you’re showing somebody up. I didn’t show up anybody.
‘‘I’m going to play hard every day. Whoever likes it, fine. Whoever doesn’t like it, that’s you.’’