CLEVELAND (AP) — Three games at Wrigley Field did to Kyle Schwarber what a shredded left knee, six grueling months of rehab and the Cleveland Indians haven’t: keep the Chicago Cubs slugger in check.
The resilient 23-year-old completed a warp-speed recovery after tearing two ligaments in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler on April 7. Schwarber returned for the World Series and drove in a pair of runs as the designated hitter in Chicago’s 5-1 win over Cleveland in Game 2 last Wednesday.
Still, doctors didn’t trust his knee enough to let him play defense. The result? Three agonizing days in which Schwarber might have been the most anxious person at Wrigley Field.
His only appearance during the Series’ first visit to the Friendly Confines since 1945 came when he popped out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of a 1-0 loss in Game 3.
Now that it’s back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Tuesday night, Schwarber can resume his DH duties while the Cubs try to force a Game 7 in search of their first title in more than a century.
“It gives them some thunder that they’ll situate right in the middle, which you have to respect,” Indians manager Terry Francona said Monday. “But I mean, they’ve got a lot of other good bats, too. I think people can get carried away with some things.”
Kind of hard not to after Schwarber went 3 for 7 with two RBIs and a pair of walks in Games 1 and 2. His teammates were left grasping for ways to explain how Schwarber could do that while facing big league pitching for the first time in more than 200 days.
“He’s a stud,” Chicago second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “He’s a special player.”
One whose mere presence provided the Cubs with an emotional jolt when he arrived on the eve of Game 1. The hulking former Indiana Hoosier needed only a weekend in the Arizona Fall League against minor leaguers to get up to speed.
“He could have just cashed it in and said, ‘I’ll be ready for spring training,'” Zobrist said.
Only Schwarber didn’t. Don’t let the easy smile or the wannabe hipster bloom of facial hair underneath his chin fool you — below the surface, there’s a work ethic that lacks an off switch.
Schwarber’s summer was a grind. He was early to the ballpark for physical therapy, followed by weight training or conditioning, extended time in the batting cage and then perhaps the hardest part: watching in sweatpants while Chicago’s special season went on without him.
It looked easy when he ripped a double off the wall against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1. It wasn’t.
“I don’t know there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” Zobrist said. “It’s really, really difficult to wake up and get out of bed after six months … and be a great hitter like he is.”
Yet all that momentum came to a halt in Chicago, a city that has embraced the barrel-chested masher from the Cincinnati suburbs as one of its own. On a team of preternaturally composed budding stars like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, Schwarber is the go-for-broke kid. His swing is all swagger, menace and muscle. He doesn’t step into the box looking to make contact. That’s not why the Cubs pay him, anyway.
All that confidence couldn’t make an impact from the bench at Wrigley, though. Chicago manager Joe Maddon tried to find spots for Schwarber, but his pinch-hit appearance in Game 3 was his only trip to the batter’s box. He was on deck when the Cubs made the final out of their Game 4 loss, and didn’t even get that close during a Game 5 win.
That won’t be an issue in Cleveland, a development that’s given Maddon a newfound appreciation for the DH, something that waned after he left the American League by bolting from Tampa Bay to Chicago in November 2014.
“I’m a much bigger fan of the National League game in general,” Maddon said. “But under these circumstances where we are right now in the year, I’ll take that American League game just to get Schwarbs involved.”