ST. LOUIS — Javier Baez stood at his locker and delivered what could become the money quote for the next chapter in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry: “We’re just waiting for Bryant now.”
Kris Bryant isn’t walking through that door yet. But the Cubs imagined the possibilities as the rap music blasted inside Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse after Friday night’s 7-2 win.
Jorge Soler had a big smile on his face after crushing two homers in his third big-league game. Kyle Hendricks got in a groove after giving up two runs in the first, putting up zeroes across the next five innings in front of a crowd of 43,181. Baez felt like he just had his best at-bat in The Show, a clutch two-run double off All-Star reliever Pat Neshek that put the Cubs ahead in the eighth.
“We’re going to play the game right and hard for nine innings,” Baez said. “(Bryant’s) going to keep working and hopefully he’ll be here soon.”
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“Soon” is a relative term — how does late April 2015 sound? — but this is what Cubs officials wanted when they promoted Baez and Soler from Triple-A Iowa, the chance for elite prospects to measure themselves against contending teams.
Soler led off the seventh and hammered Shelby Miller’s first-pitch 94 mph fastball to center for a game-tying home run. Baez came through in the eighth with a line drive to center off Neshek, the sidearm pitcher who began the day with a 0.81 ERA. Moments later, Soler drilled Neshek’s first pitch 442 feet onto the left-field concourse.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but everything’s going so good,” Soler said through an interpreter. “I feel real good at the plate. I have confidence in myself. I see the ball well. What can I say?”
The Cubs (60-74) will eventually have to go through St. Louis if they want to get to October, because the Cardinals (71-62) have been so good for so long, with 11 World Series flags flying at Busch Stadium.
“The older guys put it into us that we like to come here and beat these guys,” Hendricks said. “I was just happy I could go out there and keep them in the game as long as I could.”
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Hendricks (1.91 ERA) will keep pitching into September and looks like a keeper in what will likely become a six-man rotation for the final month. The clubhouse certainly wouldn’t mind adding another big bat with 40-homer/100-RBI potential.
“We’re imagining what (Bryant) can do,” Hendricks said. “The whole group together, it’s definitely exciting. You can feel it. Everybody’s talking about it around the clubhouse. It’s just awesome to see those guys coming up and having success.”
Soler is riding the wave, going 7-for-11 with six RBI in his first three games since getting called up from Iowa, showing why the Cubs made a $30 million investment in the Cuban outfielder.
Baez needed a big hit for his confidence, and the Cubs wanted to get this initial adjustment period — seven homers, 44 strikeouts in 100-plus plate appearances — out of the way now so they could hit the ground running in 2015.
This won’t tilt the balance of power in the National League Central, but Cub fans still sounded delirious on Twitter late Friday night. As manager Rick Renteria said: “These kids are kind of showing you why they’ve been talked about so much.”