CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber fielded a question that, in light of another astonishing performance in the World Series, wasn’t ridiculous: Is this game just that easy for you?
Schwarber collected a pair of RBI singles and drew a walk in the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night at Progressive Field. This is a guy who, until Tuesday, last saw a pitch from a major leaguer in early April and only had six at-bats against live pitching in the Arizona Fall League before being added to the Cubs’ World Series roster.
“It’s not that easy, first off,” Schwarber said. “Baseball’s a crazy game.”
Crazy is one way to describe what Schwarber has done at the plate in the first two games of the World Series: In Game 1, he blasted a double off the right field wall off Indians ace Corey Kluber and worked a walk against all-world reliever Andrew Miller. In Game 2, he got the green light on a 3-0 fastball and ripped a single up the middle to score Anthony Rizzo in the third inning, and in the fifth, he punched a single through a drawn-in infield for another RBI.
And it bears repeating, because it’s such a stunning fact on this stage: Schwarber went 201 days without a major league plate appearance.
“We should just skip spring training next year,” third baseman Kris Bryant sarcastically quipped. “You'll be fine. Just jump right into the World Series and have success. No big deal."
After Schwarber’s first RBI single, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was shown on Fox’s broadcast clapping and yelling “Atta Boy!” from the stands at Progressive Field. Epstein’s front office wouldn’t budge on dealing Schwarber to the New York Yankees for Miller, who’s become an X-Factor for the Indians in the postseason, seeing a searingly bright future for the former No. 4 overall pick in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for years to come.
But at the trade deadline, when he was still working through his grueling rehab from a torn ACL and LCL, nobody could’ve predicted Schwarber could be an X-Factor for the Cubs’ chances of winning their first World Series since 1908.
“I can see why Theo sent a plane for him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I would, too. That's a lot to ask, but special players can do special things.”
The visiting clubhouse and press conference room at Progressive Field was buzzing with Schwarber talk after the game, with plenty of the questions asked by the media centered around Schwarber. And everybody associated with the Cubs was more than happy to talk about him.
“I mean, how do you square (pitches) up after that long when you're facing this quality of pitching?” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “I mean, I feel like when I go into spring training every year, every ball going past me is 115 mph. To see the ball and be able to square it up like that, he's that good of a hitter."
“To even be able to put himself in this position to be on the World Series roster, and to contribute the way he has is remarkable,” starter Jake Arrieta said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I remember hearing Smoltzy (Hall of Fame pitcher and Fox announcer John Smoltz) comment on the broadcast, and this guy played for 20 years, he said he's never seen anything like it. For a guy to be able to do something like this in his second year is just, you know, I'm kind of speechless.”
“I didn't know what to expect,” Bryant said. ‘I’m sure people expected the world out of him. We knew he'd contribute in some way and that's why he's on the roster, but for him to do it this quickly and have at-bats like that — I mean, every at-bat he's had so far, he's worked a count, a couple walks, big hits, it's really impressive."
With the World Series shifting to Wrigley Field for the next three games, Schwarber needs to be cleared by team doctors to play the field to stay in the Cubs’ lineup. It’s a medical decision that’s out of manager Joe Maddon’s hands, but if he has clearance to make Schwarber more than a pinch hitter over the weekend, the Cubs will roll with the middle of the order they envisioned at the start of the season.
Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist and Schwarber combined to reach base in 10 of their 20 plate appearances and drove in four of the Cubs’ five runs in Game 2.
Said Maddon about having Schwarber hitting fifth: “It makes your lineup longer, it makes it thicker. It makes it better.”
Schwarber’s return from that devastating, gruesome injury could go down as one of the astonishing, improbable storylines in baseball history if he helps lead the Cubs to a championship. He wasn’t supposed to return to the Cubs’ lineup until 2017, but here he is, driving in runs, pumping up his teammates and blowing the minds of almost everyone watching the 2016 World Series.
"I've never had to do what he's had to do. In this situation, I don't know that anybody has,” Zobrist said. “(He) sat out basically all year and then gets put on the playoff roster. No. 1, most teams wouldn't even do that, especially as a hitter. And then on top of that, to actually have quality at-bats and put some good swings on it — I mean, there's no one else in history that's done that, right? To get a hit in the World Series. It's just crazy. It really is."