Cubs' Lester, Baez each get share of MVP honors

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jay Co­hen

Jon Lester and Javier Baez were se­lected co-MVPs for the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries af­ter lead­ing the Cubs to the NL pen­nant. Baez hit .318 with five RBIs against the Dodgers. Lester went 1-0 in two starts.

CHICAGO >> When Jon Lester was a free agent two years ago, one of the rea­sons he de­cided to sign with the Chicago Cubs was a group of promis­ing prospects that included all-around dy­namo Javier Baez.

Look where they are now.

Lester and Baez were se­lected co-MVPs for the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries on Satur­day night af­ter lead­ing the Cubs to their first NL pen­nant since 1945.

Baez hit .318 (7 for 22) with five RBIs against the Dodgers, pick­ing up right where he left off in the Di­vi­sion Se­ries. The ver­sa­tile Baez also made a cou­ple of the NLCS’ most ex­cit­ing plays, steal­ing home dur­ing Chicago’s vic­tory in the opener and rob­bing Adrian Gon­za­lez of a hit with a ter­rific bare­handed scoop in Game 5 on Thurs­day night.

“Just hav­ing fun,” Baez said. “Liv­ing my dream, play­ing like a lit­tle kid, mov­ing ev­ery­where, catch­ing the ball and mak­ing plays.”

Next up for Baez and the Cubs is the World Se­ries against Fran­cisco Lin­dor and the In­di­ans, be­gin­ning Tues­day night in Cleveland. Baez and Lin­dor are part of a dy­namic group of young play­ers from Puerto Rico that also in­cludes Hous­ton short­stop Car­los Cor­rea.

Baez “grew up in Puerto Rico, played a lot of base­ball as a youth, played a lot of win­ter ball,” man­ager Joe Mad­don said. “He’s been taught prop­erly and well. And when he goes out there, man, you saw him be­fore the game sit­ting on the bench, saw him wav­ing into the cam­era, he’s just be­ing him­self. I love that.”

Lester, one of base­ball’s most ac­com­plished play­off per­form­ers, went 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against Los An­ge­les. He has al­lowed just two runs in 21 in­nings in three post­sea­son games this year.

Lester’s $155 mil­lion, six-year deal in De­cem­ber 2014 was a key mo­ment in the Cubs’ turn­around from also-ran to con­tender. The left-han­der is a sure bet to get the ball in Game 1 against the In­di­ans, look­ing to im­prove to 4-0 in four World Se­ries starts af­ter help­ing Bos­ton win it all in 2007 and 2013.

“It’s un­be­liev­able. Go­ing through this process, this is why they signed me,” Lester said. “This is why they wanted me to come here to win a World Se­ries. This is why I wanted to come here, to win a World Se­ries for this city and this or­ga­ni­za­tion, this own­er­ship, this front of­fice . ... We still have a long ways to go.”

Lester and Baez be­came the first NLCS co-MVPs since Cincin­nati re­liev­ers Rob Dib­ble and Randy My­ers in 1990.

The Cubs grabbed Baez with the ninth over­all pick in the 2011 am­a­teur draft. He made his ma­jor league de­but in 2014, but re­ally turned into a con­sis­tent force this year, bat­ting .273 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs while play­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent po­si­tions.

Af­ter strug­gling for a while in his first year in Chicago, Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts this sea­son. The 19 wins matched a ca­reer high.

“You’re ob­vi­ously go­ing to feel more com­fort­able that se­cond year as op­posed to just get­ting thrown into that first year with a whole new at­mos­phere in front of you,” Lester said be­fore Game 1 of the NLCS.

NAM Y. HUH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester, left, and Javier Baez cel­e­brate af­ter Game 6 of the Na­tional League base­ball cham­pi­onship se­ries against the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, Satur­day in Chicago. The Cubs won 5-0 to win the se­ries and ad­vance to the World Se­ries against the Cleveland In­di­ans. Lester and Baez were named co-MVP of the se­ries.

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