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Baez dazzles on both sides of ball

Shortstop slugs 20th homer, makes impressive play in Cubs' win
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez hit his 20th home run and made what seemed like his 20 millionth unbelievable defensive play in the ninth inning to help preserve the Cubs' 7-4 win over the Blue Jays on Friday.

"He's a special talent," Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta said of Baez. "He does things that maybe a handful of guys can do. He makes plays that look near impossible possible and gets big outs for us."

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CHICAGO -- Javier Baez hit his 20th home run and made what seemed like his 20 millionth unbelievable defensive play in the ninth inning to help preserve the Cubs' 7-4 win over the Blue Jays on Friday.

"He's a special talent," Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta said of Baez. "He does things that maybe a handful of guys can do. He makes plays that look near impossible possible and gets big outs for us."

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First, the offense: Baez hit one of three RBI singles in the second, and he added a two-run homer in the eighth for insurance. He's batting .357 in his past seven games, with four home runs and nine RBIs.

Video: TOR@CHC: Baez bloops an RBI single into shallow right

Baez joins Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber in the Cubs' 20-homer club, the fourth time in franchise history the team has had five players reach that mark (also 1958, 2004 and '08).

"The way he's swinging the bat, 20 homers for him, that's a big deal for a guy like Javy," Arrieta said. "I expect him to use that as positive reinforcement moving forward. He can do some really great things in this game. I'm happy to have him as a teammate and watch him do his thing every day."

Video: TOR@CHC: Baez crushes a two-run shot to left field

Baez had to play a little cat-and-mouse-game because Blue Jays catcher Miguel Montero knows the infielder well from their days together on the Cubs. He did connect against Tim Mayza with one out and one on in the eighth.

What does 20 homers mean to Baez?

"It means a lot," he said. "I'll try to get 30 if I can. I'm just trying to make my adjustments."

Video: TOR@CHC: Baez on his sparkling defense, big home run

It helps that Baez has gotten more regular playing time, even though it's come at a cost. When Addison Russell was sidelined on Aug. 3, Baez took over at shortstop.

"I just try to do my best," Baez said. "When you play every day, you have a chance to come back the next day and make adjustments. You've got to do what you've got to do for the team. ... I like playing more. We need [Russell], too."

What manager Joe Maddon likes is that Baez is able to forget a bad at-bat or shrug off a botched play quickly.

Video: TOR@CHC: Maddon on Arrieta's outing, Baez's big game

"He's still prone to that mistake, so you're still going to see it, and you have to play through it -- you have to play through the rough lie sometimes," Maddon said. "He's not a finished product, Albert [Almora Jr.] is not a finished product, [Ian] Happ, [Victor] Caratini -- there's a lot of guys in that lineup who are not finished products."

Baez looked like a Gold Glove shortstop in the ninth when he snared Jose Bautista's hard-hit ball and somehow was able to throw to first in time.

Video: TOR@CHC: Baez makes an incredible backhanded stop

"Two strikes on Bautista, the ball probably had 100-plus[-mph] exit velocity, and to turn it into an out was pretty spectacular," Maddon said of Bautista's ball, which was measured at 106.3 mph, according to Statcast™.

"It's just reaction, really," Baez said. "They didn't think I was going to get to it, and I did get to it. I was more worried about the throw than the play I made."

What's better, hitting home runs or making plays like that?

"I like both, to be honest," Baez said. "I like the fans cheering for me. I love Chicago, and I know Chicago loves me. Thank you for that, and thank you for all the love from the fans."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez