DENVER – The Javier Baez Show lived up to the hype.
As much as Cubs officials don’t want Javy to be the entire story, he wrote the perfect ending during the 12th inning late Tuesday night at Coors Field, crushing the game-winning home run in a 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Until Baez destroyed Boone Logan’s first-pitch fastball, this big-league debut would’ve had Cubs fans and the Chicago media completely overreacting. Baez had gone 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, but didn’t show any signs of nerves.
“Not really,” Baez said afterward, surrounded by reporters at his locker while rap music blasted inside the visiting clubhouse. “I took it like a spring-training game with a lot of fans.”
Baez is a gym rat, someone who liked hitting in the cage until past midnight after Triple-A Iowa games. In that way, this wouldn’t be sensory overload, even with a crowd of 35,043, the media crush and the adrenaline rush.
Baez remembered Logan, a lefty reliever, throwing him curveballs in a Triple-A game earlier this season and jumped on the 91 mph fastball. It soared 414 feet and bounced into the back of the bullpen. Baez pointed to the sky when he touched home plate and then pointed to his family sitting in the stands.
Baez has the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck, but even he couldn’t play it cool when he got the news from Iowa manager Marty Pevey on Monday morning.
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“I was sleeping and I was like: Are you serious?” Baez said. “And then I realized I was really going to the big leagues. I got really excited. I called my mom, told my brother and everybody started jumping around and crying.”
Baez batted second and turned two double plays at second base with shortstop Starlin Castro. Baez nearly broke the game open with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, lining a hard-hit ball to right field that Colorado’s Brandon Barnes caught just before the warning track.
Baez also struck out swinging three times, but manager Rick Renteria said “it wasn’t for anxiousness.”
“It didn’t seem like he was anxious at all,” Renteria said. “Even after he’d come into the dugout after the at-bats, he was fine. He went out there and kept grinding.”
Baez, a 2011 first-round pick signed in the final days of the Jim Hendry administration, has become a symbol for Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project. It will be Year 4 for the president of baseball operations next season, and the Cubs need to find out what they have in Baseball America’s No. 7 prospect.
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“He’s a good kid, and now that he’s here, there’s no up,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “This is The Show. He’s in it, and he deserves to be in it, and hopefully this transitions very smoothly for him.”
Baez is going to crush the ball and strike out a lot. Cubs fans and the Chicago media will overanalyze every at-bat, thinking he’s a future Hall of Famer one moment and wondering why he’s not back in Des Moines the next. But he shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the attention or the speed of the game.
“I don’t think Javy is someone who needs to be handled with kid gloves,” Epstein said. “Because he plays with emotion and an edge, I think there’s a tendency for people who don’t know him to think that he’s fragile or volatile.
“Javy understands the game really well. He plays to win. He’s a real competitor. He shows up every day. He plays every day. He prepares himself well. So Javy, in some ways, is baseball mature beyond his years and is not someone that we need to be delicate with.
“That said, we understand that he’s 21 and it’s very likely that people put unrealistic expectations on him.”
Cubs executives liked the way Baez responded to adversity already, overcoming the-sky-is-falling start to put up 23 homers and 80 RBI at Iowa while answering some of the questions about his focus and attitude.
One wild game summed up the Baez rollercoaster. Whatever happens between now and the end of September, he won’t go down quietly.
“Oh yeah, I always swing big,” Baez said. “Hard.”