CLEVELAND – Within roughly 24 hours, Kyle Schwarber went from dismissing the possibility of being ready to play the outfield to saying: “We’ll see where it goes. Nothing’s set in stone.”
The momentum constantly shifts back and forth during October baseball and the Cubs felt another dramatic mood swing when Wednesday night’s 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians gave the franchise its first World Series win in 71 years. The spin coming out of the Progressive Field interview room sure made it sound like the must-see video footage from Thursday’s workout at Wrigley Field will be Schwarber tracking flyballs.
“I honestly don’t know,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s something I’m waiting to hear from our guys, from our medical side, because obviously he looks good. He looks good at the plate. Running the bases he looks pretty good so far.
“There’s nothing about watching him that tells me that he’s inhibited right now.”
Schwarber’s shown no rust for someone who hadn’t seen big-league action in more than six months. Hitting with a brace wrapped around his surgically repaired left knee, Schwarber blasted a double off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and split his matchups against nasty lefty reliever Andrew Miller (walk/strikeout) during Tuesday night’s 6-0 loss in Game 1.
Schwarber gave the Cubs another jolt in Game 2, going 2-for-4 with a walk and driving in two runs. After knocking a two-out RBI single up the middle off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer in the third inning, Schwarber pumped his fists, pointed at his dugout and yelled out some, uh, locker-room talk.
The Cubs clearly felt an emotional lift with Schwarber in their lineup as the designated hitter, an option that will be taken away when the World Series shifts to Wrigley Field for Games 3, 4 and 5.
“I just want to keep an open mind,” Maddon said. “But I could keep as open of a mind as I possibly can – it’s up to the doctors to say what he can and cannot do.”
Schwarber keeps smashing all expectations, returning from a gruesome outfield collision that was supposed to keep him sidelined until winter ball – and then a return to the 2017 Opening Day lineup if everything went smoothly.
Maddon promised reporters that they would be surprised by how well Schwarber runs now. Schwarber estimated that video from his Arizona Fall League tune-up represented “about 50 percent” of what he could actually do.
“I wouldn’t put anything past Joe and their crew,” catcher David Ross said. “I’m not a doctor. I have no idea. Would I be shocked? To (use) ‘shocked’ and ‘Kyle Schwarber’ in the same sentence is probably a bad combo.
“That’s up to the docs. And who knows what Joe’s going to pull out of his hat at any time? I like our chances with – and without – Schwarber. But I like them a lot more with Schwarber.”
The Cubs will at least have Schwarber looming as a dangerous pinch-hitter who generated five home runs and a 1.308 OPS during last year’s playoffs. Everything from that clutch performance to his middle-linebacker build to his show-choir video from high school endeared him to Cubs fans.
Just showing Schwarber’s face on the Wrigley Field video board would get a reaction during a random game in the regular season, when he essentially became a cheerleader in the dugout. Now imagine him walking up to home plate in the World Series.
“The fans are going to go berserk,” Maddon said. “Our fans really appreciate how hard he worked to get back for this moment. Not everybody would have done that. That’s a tough injury to come back from – really tough – and to accelerate his recovery as much as he (did) speaks to him and the training staff. And I think our fans will appreciate that.”