Baseball / Sports

Chicago Cubs second baseman Javier Baez fields a ground ball to end the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Wrigley welcome not so warm for Javier Baez; Cubs fall to Rays in 10th

When Javy Baez toured Wrigley Field with some other prospects during a cold January day in 2013, a Cubs' executive chastised them for walking on the grass and leaving imprints.

You can bet no one was telling Baez where he could and could not walk Friday when he made his home debut before a curious crowd of 34,937.

It was a day that started out well and went downhill quickly for the rookie second baseman who went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Rays.

"I wasn't nervous or anything," Baez said. "Just swinging at bad pitches."

Starlin Castro could relate. It reminded the Cubs shortstop of his own Wrigley debut May 10, 2010 when he committed three errors in a loss to the Marlins.

"Those kinds of games are always coming," Castro said. "It happened to me in a different way. Those kind of things will help him learn. He knows he's in the big leagues now."

At least Baez wasn't booed, as Castro was on that night, or shown up by a teammate, as starter Carlos Zambrano did to Castro.

Baez's rough debut wasn't as important as the significance of his arrival, considered the first big step on the Cubs' long journey back to respectability.

"We get it," manager Rick Renteria said. "We understand that it has been a long time where you've been able to hear about talented, gifted players here in Chicago, and now they're finally starting to get here ...

"It's a good thing, that players in the system are legit, that it's real. But people have to see it to embrace it, to believe it, and we all get that."

Baez was greeted with a big ovation in his first at-bat, as organist Gary Pressy played "We've Only Just Begun," a 1970 Carpenters' hit. Baez responded with a broken bat single to left off Rays starter Chris Archer, the former Cubs' prospect.

But that was the only highlight. Baez struck out on a 95 mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch in the third, after taking the first two breaking pitches for called strikes, and struck out again on a 1-2 pitch in the dirt in the fifth. In the eighth, with the tying run on second and no outs, he fell behind 0-2 against lefty reliever Jake McGee and struck out on a 97 mph. fastball. In the 10th, he struck out on a nasty change-up from Brad Boxberger.

"They didn't throw many pitches over the plate," Baez said.

And they won't if he keeps swinging at the ones outside the strike zone.

"Yeah, I just have to be patient," he said. "Tomorrow is another day."

The Cubs lost it on Kevin Kiermaier's RBI single off Hector Rondon in the 10th, after Ryan Sweeney tied it with a run-scoring single in the ninth.

But Baez is here, and the buzz was real.

"Our fans deserve to get excited," President Theo Epstein said. "Ultimately the only thing that matters is winning. We're working hard to get there, but having young players who are worth following and at-bats you can't miss ...

"That makes us feel good that our fans have something like that at this point because certainly there have been some tough times they've had to endure."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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