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Javier Baez excited for new start in pennant race with Mets and to play with childhood buddy Francisco Lindor

The Mets' Javier Baez bats in the second

The Mets' Javier Baez bats in the second inning of a game against the Reds on Saturday at Citi Field. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

The newest Mets star had an emotional and eventful 72 hours before taking his position at shortstop at Citi Field on Saturday to face the Reds. Javier Baez saw disappointment turn to uncertainty and finally elation with his move from Chicago to New York.

The Cubs’ decision to break up the core of a team that had made five of the last six postseasons and captured the 2016 World Series to end a 108-year drought stunned him at first. The news that Anthony Rizzo was sent to the Yankees on Thursday had an impact. Soon after, he realized that it was only a matter of time before he’d be on the move. That it ended up being in a deal Friday to the Mets, where he rejoins childhood friend Francisco Lindor, was cause for excitement.

"I think that the toughest one, it was the first one: it was Tony," Baez said Friday of breaking up the Cubs. "Tony’s done so much for the team and for the fans and for the city. When he left I think it was toughest on [me] and I laid all my emotions out with him. So it didn’t get to me when I got traded. He was definitely a tough one but [it helped me] be ready to move on."

Baez said that as soon as the trade to the Mets became official, Lindor was calling on his cell phone. They were friends as youngsters and teammates for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

 

"He called me and we talked," Baez said. "He was really excited and I [also] talked to a couple other guys here. They mentioned that Lindor was really excited. I am excited, too."

With Lindor recovering from a right oblique strain, Baez got the start at shortstop and batted cleanup in the Mets’ batting order. It’s a natural for him after moving from second base after 2018 to shortstop for the Cubs. When Lindor returns, Baez is expected to slide over to second base and make for a very dynamic double-play tandem.

"It could be special, right? Those two guys are unbelievable," Mets manager Luis Rojas said. "Francisco is one of the best shortstops in the game and Javy is one of the best defenders in the game. If he’s at second base with all the things he does . . . it’s mind-blowing."

"I couldn’t be happier," Lindor said after Friday night’s loss to the Reds. "I’m going to be playing alongside a good friend of mine — a great person, a great baseball player, and somebody who’s going to help us win. It can’t get any better. I’m very happy. I can’t wait for him to come out here and put on a show for everybody."

"I can’t wait for him to come back and be up the middle with him," Baez said.

Rojas was among the first to greet Baez at Citi Field and quickly informed him what position he’d be playing and where he’d be in the lineup.

"We had a chance to connect immediately and we talked a lot," Rojas said. "I’m very impressed with his demeanor. All he talks about is winning . . . so we’re all very excited to have him. He’s definitely a strong presence."

Baez had to miss a game last week with a bruised left heel and he and Rojas discussed the matter. "He said it’s been nagging him but he is not injured," Rojas said. "That’s how he presented it to me."

Asked to compare the spotlight in Chicago with that in New York, Baez said it seemed similar. "I know New York has great fans," he said, "I’ve been seeing it from the other side. Hopefully they’re ready to have me."

These last couple months of the season are Baez’ last before he hits free agency. He sidestepped a question about possibly signing with the Mets in the offseason. "We’ll see what happens," he said, "and how everything goes. We’ll see what happens these two months. I know we are in first place and hopefully we go we go deep in the playoffs."

Baez indicated that knowing what was coming after the Rizzo trade helped him be ready for the news of the deal with the Mets.

"There were a lot of emotions because [of] the way that I grew up in that organization," he said. "Now [I am] ready to move on and really excited to be here."

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