CHICAGO -- They've been there since 1970, those chain-linked baskets lining Wrigley Field's ivy-covered bricks walls. It was a feature originally commissioned as part of an effort to reduce fan interference, but one that, on Friday night, offered the Cubs a bit of literal -- and critical -- home-field advantage.
Javier Báez, ready to settle for a bunt, instead capped his eighth-inning at-bat with a blast, one that ended a scoreless duel between Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto and lifted the Cubs to a 1-0 win over the Giants to open the best-of-five National League Division Series. Game 2 is on Saturday night (8 ET/7 CT, MLB Network).
:: NLDS: Giants vs. Cubs coverage ::Baez's second career postseason homer may have dropped on Waveland Ave. if not for the wind gusting in from left field. Instead, the ball, which Statcast™ tracked off his bat at 107 mph, came to rest 381 feet away, where the bricks meet that row of wiring, in the basket for a homer. Batted balls with that combo were 14-for-18 this year, and all 14 hits were homers. Similar batted balls in 2016 averaged 415 feet of carry but the stiff wind likely kept the ball from flying as far as normal. The temperature at first pitch at Wrigley was 58 degrees with a 10 mph wind blowing from left field to right field.
"I was so focused on that at-bat that I completely forgot about the wind," said Baez, the 12th player to homer in a postseason game that ended with a 1-0 score. "I thought it was way farther than that. It barely went out. But I still will take it."
He wasn't the only one surprised by the ball's final resting place.
"I thought I was right there," said Giants left fielder Ángel Pagán. "But the reality is that basket's been there for so many years. There's nothing we can do about it."
Baez was actually ready to settle for much less as he stepped in to face Cueto with one out and nobody on. Though he had one of the team's two hits through 7 1/3 innings, Baez thought his best chance to counter Cueto's quick-pitch tendencies and set up a scoring opportunity might come by beating out a bunt, something he did seven times during the regular season.
His approach changed only when he saw third baseman Conor Gillaspie creeping in.
So Baez left the bat on his shoulders, worked the count full against Cueto and then feasted on a fastball left over the plate. He took his time beginning his trot and capped the moment by obliging the soldout crowd with a curtain call.
"That guy has a flair for the dramatic," said teammate Kris Bryant. "He's kind of the 'X' factor. There's a lot of good players on this team. To look at his progression from when he first got called up to last year to this year, it's night and day. I'm so happy for him."
Baez joins Joe Tinker as the only players in franchise history to break a scoreless game with a solo homer. Tinker hit his in the 1908 World Series, the last one won by the Cubs.
"You can't come out any bigger than that," David Ross said of Baez. "It's a different guy every night, and it's nice for that to come true in the playoffs. It doesn't have to be the MVP candidates. It sometimes can be the guys who don't play every day. Javy has been a superstar for us all year."
Ironic it may be, too, that Baez's inclusion in the Game 1 lineup was a part of manager Joe Maddon's efforts to field "our best defensive team." Baez helped on that end, too, teaming with Ross for a pickoff in the third inning and snaring a ground ball for the game's final out.
"I've just been learning how to slow the game down," Baez said. "I had a big hit today, but we've got to turn the page. Obviously, we have 10 more [wins] to go, and we just trying to get there and win it."