By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Everyone watching the Cubs on Friday night in Game 1 on the National League Divisional Series will remember the eighth-inning home run by Javier Baez off of dynamic Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto, but the name of this game was defense. As often happens in NL playoff affairs, the team with the fewest mistakes wins.
Baez has made difficult plays look easy all year. In Friday’s 1-0 win at Wrigley Field, he displayed his all-around game to a national television audience with the difference-making homer and by showing off “the fastest hands in baseball.”
“Javy is much more than just a great defensive guy,” said Cubs catcher David Ross, who worked an important pick-off play with Baez by nailing Conor Gillaspie at first base as the Giants showed bunt. “He is a great defender, but he is also a great player. He has been doing that all year for us. Remember he had the Mother’s Day walk-off homer. With us, it’s a different guy every night. Javy has been superstar for us all year.”
Along with Baez, the night belonged to left-hander Jon Lester, who tossed eight shutout innings of five-hit ball. He’s lost just once since July 3.
With Lester at the top of his game, one mistake was all it took from Cueto, who was otherwise brilliant in giving up just three hits in eight innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. The only hits he allowed were the homer and a single from Baez and a double by Kris Bryant.
“Javy Baez is a stud,” Ross said. “You can’t come out any bigger than that. A game-winning homer in the eighth. He is an absolute stud.”
Friday marked the Cubs’ first victory in Game 1 of a playoff series since 2003, and Baez made it possible. He drilled a 3-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate to left field.
“I was just thinking about getting on base,” Baez said. “I was thinking about bunting, but the third baseman was playing in. Cueto was pitching me inside all night. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake, and he finally did.”
The Cubs may be up 1-0, but Baez and his teammates know a similar battle will be waiting for them throughout this series.
“It’s about playing as a team and doing the little things we have to do,” Baez said. “Our goal obviously is to win 10 more games.”
One run won the game, and capitalizing on one mistake was the reason for the Cubs’ narrow victory.
“When you are playing that game, you are thinking one mistake on the offensive side will decide it,” Bryant said. “We have taken advantage of the mistake pitches we get to hit. That was the difference today. There seems to be a trend. You hit the mistake pitch for a home run to win the game. The other playoff games have been about that. The Giants in the wild-card game won on a big home run.”
This series may have more results like this thriller. Going back to the regular season, the Cubs and Giants have played six consecutive one-run games, with Chicago winning four of them.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.