At some point before he heads to the plate to hit in the first inning, Anthony Rizzo typically has a few words for the guy in the on-deck circle.
"Just do that thing that everybody loves," he tells Cubs teammate Javy Báez.
When it comes to Báez, that could mean anything. And, of course, that's the point.
"He plays the game kind of differently," said teammate David Bote, who shared the Rizzo-Báez story. "It's incredible."
That's why it was almost conspicuous how the All-Star shortstop had played such low-key roles in the Cubs' first four games of this strange, short season.
He earned some attention for a pair of opposite-field hits in Saturday's loss to the Brewers. But by the end of the third inning Tuesday in Cincinnati he was off to a 3-for-19 start.
"I was out of it. I was a little cold," Báez said. "But working."
Then came the fifth inning, and what amounted to the start of Báez's 2020 season.
He doubled to center off Tyler Mahle with two out in the top of the fifth, and when Kyle Schwarber followed with a single to left, Báez did one of those "things that everybody loves" - sliding headfirst to the outside of the catcher and eluding the tag for a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, he ranged so far in the hole for Curt Casali's drive that he was about 20 feet from the third-base line, on the grass, when he slid to backhand the shot, leap to his feat in the same motion, then gather himself for a split second before throwing out Casali to end the inning.
A solo homer off Amir Garrett and two-run shot off Michael Lorenzen capped the big game, and just like that his OPS jumped from .498 to .970 and there was nothing low-key about his early-season presence anymore.
Talk about that thing that everybody loves.
"Javy makes so many things happen."
With Bryant day-to-day and frontline starters Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo on tap for the Reds in the final two games of the series, the Cubs might not find a better time in the early weeks of the schedule to take one of those weeklong rides on the Báez bus.
And for what it's worth, Báez's two best months statistically in his career are April (the first month of a normal season) and July (now).
Ross and Báez steered clear of suggesting promises after the game - beyond Báez talking about feeling "pretty good."
But Báez said something's working in the way Rizzo heads up the fun committee ("being crazy") in the dugout, the early season buzz they're able to sustain in stadiums without fans, so far, and the faith they have in their sprinting ability.
"Now that we got a short season," he said, "we're playing more as a team than ever."
What Cubs' Anthony Rizzo said to Javy Bez before he did 'that thing' again originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago