DENVER – Javier Baez is now Wrigley Field’s marquee attraction.
Baez again became a trending topic on Twitter after blasting two home runs during Thursday’s 6-2 win over the Colorado Rockies, the end of a road trip the Cubs may remember as a turning point for The Plan.
Baez doesn’t know what the scene will be like at Clark and Addison on Friday afternoon when his name’s announced and he steps into the box to face Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer. But Cubs fans will be waiting for him.
“I hope so,” Baez said.
[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez hopes to speed up learning curve]
Baez became the first Cub since at least 1914 to have a multi-homer game in his third career game. One stayed inside the left-field foul pole, the other bounced into the right-center field bullpen. Combine that with the game-winning bomb in his big-league debut – a 12th-inning shot on Tuesday night – and he’s outperformed the hype coming out of Triple-A Iowa.
That wasn’t just a media creation or the hopes of a desperate, frustrated fan base. The Cubs have put the kids front and center in all their business plans, marketing campaigns and PR spins.
You can be skeptical of a 49-64 team and wonder how the Cubs are going to find pitching and question when they’re going to spend like a big-market franchise again. Just don’t miss a Baez at-bat, because you never know what’s going to happen.
[MORE CUBS: The Javier Baez Show lives up to the hype]
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein will try to shield Baez from the spotlight, but it’s too late for that now.
“It’s not a one-man show,” Epstein said. “We have a couple 24-year-old All-Stars in the big leagues already (with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro). (Arismendy) Alcantara has come up and made a really nice first impression.
“He’s still someone who’s really exciting to watch, and there may be others behind Javy. For now, it’s a moment where there’s going to be a bit of a fishbowl around (Javy). We’ll help him get through that.”
By the way, Kyle Hendricks went eight innings at Coors Field in his fifth big-league start. The 24-year-old right-hander gave up two runs in the mile-high altitude, showing why he could be a big part of the future. That actually raised his ERA to 2.10.
“When (Baez) does things like he did today, it’s hard not to (think about the future),” said Hendricks, who played with him in the minors. “Everyone in the dugout’s obviously feeling it. There’s a lot of energy with the young guys.
“It didn’t surprise me too much, because I’ve seen it for a couple years. He always thrives on the big stage, every time we had a big game. He’s obviously really fun to watch. I’m glad he’s up here. He deserves it.”
A huge game on getaway day erased the 1-for-11 start, but that’s why the Cubs finally pulled the trigger on the Baez decision, knowing he’d struggle initially and wanting him to see what it takes up here.
“This is baseball,” Epstein said. “It’s something that a lot of prospects have to deal with. Look at Anthony Rizzo, where he was sort of written off after a tough couple months as a 21-year-old. I think Anthony’s jersey was the top-selling Padre jersey the day he was promoted from Triple-A for the first time. It can create unrealistic expectations if you don’t try to set realistic expectations.”
Good luck with that.
“No matter how many ABs I miss, I’m just going to keep doing my thing,” Baez said after he went 3-for-4 with four RBI. “I haven’t been nervous or anything. I’ve been slowing the game down and thinking about the situation.”