From the way Javier Baez sounded in his first Zoom news conference as a Met on Saturday, he might have been reduced to tears if anyone had handed him a deep dish pizza or did a Mike Ditka impression.
Three hours before his debut as a Met, Baez’s head and heart seemed to still be in Chicago. Which is understandable considering the 28-year-old shortstop had spent his entire eight-year career with the Cubs — winning a curse-busting World Series in 2016 — before he was dealt to the Mets at Friday’s trade deadline.
That probably lasted until the sixth inning, when Baez hit a towering, majestic two-run home run to leftfield for his first hit as a Met to delight the crowd of 26,477.
That blast started the Mets’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit against the Reds. They tied the it at 4 on Dom Smith’s two-out single in the ninth and took a thrilling 5-4 victory on Brandon Drury’s leadoff, walk-off single (thank you, ghost runner) off former Yankee Luis Cessa in the 10th.
After his home run, Baez — who has enough mustard in his game to open his own Nathan’s — dropped his bat and walked toward first on his 23rd home run of the season (same total as Mets team leader Pete Alonso).
After his trip around the bases, Baez responded to the fans who were chanting his name and took a curtain call from the first-base side of the dugout. He raised his arms in triumph.
"Really excited to see the fans chant my name," Baez said. "That's the biggest thing that motivates me. The love that they showed me — that was special."
Baez’s sixth-inning mega-blast could have been a game-tying, three-run homer if Jonathan Villar hadn’t been picked off second base by pitcher Wade Miley one batter earlier.
(That’s if you believe subsequent events would have unfolded exactly as they did if Villar had not been picked off. I don’t believe in that. But you’re free to if you like.)
You could feel the energy in the ninth during Baez’s at-bat with the Mets trailing 4-3. With pinch-runner Luis Guillorme on first and none out, Baez took three balls from Heath Hembree. The third one bounced, sending Guillorme to second.
Baez fouled back the next two offerings before foul-tipping a 3-and-2 slider into the mitt of catcher Tyler Stephenson for his second strikeout of a 1-for-4 debut.
One out later, Smith tied it with a single to center off lefthander Sean Doolittle.
The initial thought here when the Mets acquired Baez was "nice player, but not what they needed."
They needed starting pitching, especially with Jacob deGrom iffy to throw even one more pitch this season.
Then it made sense: The Mets needed to acquire whatever talent they could to hold off the Phillies and Braves in the winnable NL East.
They couldn’t get a top starting pitcher, so team president Sandy Alderson and acting general manager Zack Scott got the best position player they could.
The top of the starting pitching market was Max Scherzer, who wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause to come to New York, and Twins righthander Jose Berrios, who the Mets felt wasn’t worth as much as the prospect haul Minnesota eventually got from the Blue Jays.
The rest of the market was along the lines of 41-year-old lefthander Rich Hill, who allowed four runs in five innings in his second start for the Mets on Saturday after being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 23, and righthander Trevor Williams, who the Mets picked up in the Baez trade and immediately sent to Triple-A Syracuse.
Not a lot of difference-makers.
To paraphrase the great English philosopher Mick Jagger: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find . . . an All-Star shortstop for a two-month rental.
"He’s a winner. He wins," said Baez’s longtime pal Francisco Lindor. "Great defensive plays and big-time hits. That’s what he does . . . I can’t wait for him to come out here and put on a show for everybody."
From the reaction of Mets fans on Saturday night, they couldn’t wait, either.