By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – When Cubs manager Joe Maddon sits down in the morning with his coffee and forms a lineup for that day’s game, it pains him to leave out Javier Baez’s name.
The defense that Baez brings to the infield can be something special, with the spectacular never surprising. But there’s also that inner faith he can change the game with his sweet swing. That faith remains constant, despite the inconsistencies and a postseason slump that reached 0-for-20, because Maddon knows Baez can do what he did in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night.
Baez connected with a pair of solo homers and gave the Cubs enough offense to save their season in a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday night. The NLCS was forced to a Game 5 with Baez proving to be a difference-maker.
“Just give him credit for sticking with it,” Maddon said after Game 4. “Very difficult start to the postseason for him, and that’s what he can do. Starts the double play to end the game. His entire game is spectacular. When young guys like that really struggle, you’ve got to stay with him. It was a really good matchup for him tonight. He took advantage of it, give him a lot of credit.”
With the Cubs pushed to the brink of elimination, they needed a hero at the plate. Their lineup had been stifled by strong Dodgers pitching.
Sure enough, it was Baez – the 2016 NLCS Co-MVP – who came through for the Cubs. In the second inning, he followed the 491-foot blast by Willson Contreras with a homer hit 437 feet that landed on Waveland Avenue. It gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
With the Cubs leading 2-1 in the fifth inning, Baez stepped up and hit a homer on a low pitch that landed in the left-field bleachers.
Baez found himself trying too hard to be the hero early in the postseason and reached the point of 0-for-20. It took 15 straight outs to calm down at the plate and stay level headed, he said.
“Since the (NLDS), I’ve been trying to get a base hit so hard,” Baez said. “(Wednesday night), I just said to myself not to try too much, and I didn’t, and there you have it. I had two good contacts and win the game by one run.”
With left-hander Clayton Kershaw starting Game 5 for the Dodgers, it’s likely that Maddon will have Baez back in the lineup. He offers the better matchup against a southpaw and a steady defensive presence behind Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana.
The Cubs now need to follow Baez’s lead at the plate and extend their season another game.
“I feel like we’re still not on track as a team,” Baez said. “But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we’re going to be the best again.”