Thanks to Jake Arrieta, Kyle Schwarber, World Series swings back toward Cubs
By Thomas Boswell Columnist October 26 at 11:12 PM
CLEVELAND – This World Series is now tied at a game apiece, but the balance of the struggle may have turned, perhaps decisively, toward the Chicago Cubs. Because such omens and portents have proved premature for roughly 108 years, let’s wait a bit. But something distinctly Cubbish is in the wind.
After a 5-1 win in Game 2, Chicago suddenly has powerful reinforcements in two symbolic forms. Young slugger Kyle Schwarber, who underwent major knee surgery in April and wasn’t expected to play again this year, is not only batting in this Series but getting crucial hits, including two RBI singles in Game 2. Also, a suddenly sharp effort from Jake Arrieta, who has been off his usually stellar game since July, makes the Cubs look even tougher. On the same night, the Indians got just the opposite sort of news: Trevor Bauer, the pitcher attacked by his own drone, isn’t bleeding anymore. That’s the good news. And the bad news, too, because his ineffectual pitching, taking the loss in this game, looks like it may need bandages and splints.
With all these factors in play, the Cubs don’t hide how strongly they feel this Series has swung now that they head to Wrigley Field for three games.
“It’s always crazy good,” Manager Joe Maddon said. “But coming back 1-1 and now having a World Series to root for, it’s going to be incredibly special.”
Schwarber, 23, is the shock, the feel-good story of this Series. Little more than a week ago, he was presumed lost to the Cubs until next spring training. Now he not only has been (suddenly and unexpectedly) cleared by doctors to try to hit, but he is clobbering the ball with something akin to midseason timing. He is 3 for 7 with two walks. He looks like an only slightly less dangerous version of the young star who blasted five home runs in just nine games in the postseason for the Cubs last year.
“He jacks everybody up. It makes your lineup longer – bigger and stronger. He’s a big weapon to have,” Maddon said. “And he’s really seeing the ball well. That’s what’s so amazing.”
Has any Series team ever needed another potent bat less than the 103-win Cubs? Yet that’s exactly what they have in Schwarber. Cleveland’s only solace – a temporary one – is that Schwarber may be cleared by team doctors only to pinch hit in the next three games at Wrigley Field. But if this Series returns to Progressive Field, Schwarber will be back and batting fifth, joining Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist in a truly intimidating quartet of core hitters.
It’s almost like the Cubs, after 108 years, made one wish – for a complete team picture of the true 2016 Cubs – the team as they had intended it, with Schwarber part of its beating heart. And they got it.
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Before Game 1, Schwarber said that, after an almost record-setting speed-of-recovery performance, he was still trying to catch up with his own racing emotions. Little more than a week ago, he still thought that his next checkup with doctors would result in the same prognosis: Get ready for spring training. Instead, they said, in essence, go hit in the World Series.
“I’m a baseball rat,” said Schwarber, who had only two games and eight at-bats in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox to get ready for baseball’s center stage. How can he look so comfortable facing curveballs? “I tracked probably 1,300 pitches off a pitching machine [in the week since he learned he could play]. I turned the curveball [setting] up to the nastiest it had.” That’s nasty – for the Indians.
Next, the Cubs had only one serious worry on their pitching staff entering this Series – Arrieta, who had been mediocre and at times downright stinky in his previous 18 starts since early July, with periods of uncharacteristic wildness and a 4.51 ERA. In the first inning Wednesday night, Arrieta walked two, frequently missed his target by a foot or two and seemed rattled. On a 3-1 fastball to Cleveland switch hitter Jose Ramirez, Arrieta snapped his head to watch a blast that seemed destined to be a three-run homer over the center field fence.
At such times, neither the winds of chance nor the elements of Mother Nature have frequently come to the Cubs’ aide. In fact, if the wind can be perverse or the temperature inhospitable to the Cubs, that has been the rule for generations. But on this night, the temperature was 44 degrees, and a cross wind buffeted Ramirez’s blast. For once, a potential game-defining home run was kept inside the park for a long warning-track out. And the Cubs trotted back to their dugout unharmed.
Let a star pitcher off the hook, and he usually finds himself. Arrieta did instantly, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning before allowing a one-out double by Jason Kipnis. What Corey Kluber did for Cleveland in Game 1, shutting out Chicago for six innings, was counterbalanced, to a degree, by Arrieta.
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Just as these two pieces of vital good news arrived for the Cubs, Cleveland got a blow to the gut.
The Drive, The Fumble, The Decision and now The Drone.
As if Cleveland baseball hasn’t had enough to cope with for the past 68 years, now the fans of the Tribe will, in future years, get to wonder what would have happened in this Series if Bauer, at the very moment when he was most needed after September injuries to all-star Danny Salazar and 200-strikeout-man Carlos Carrasco, had not slashed the pinkie finger of his pitching hand – requiring 10 stitches – while playing with his toy drone.
Under normal circumstances, Cleveland might have ignored Bauer’s bad luck – or folly, depending on your view – and used their four other fine starting pitchers against the Cubs. But with Carrasco out for the season and Salazar only available for very limited duty in this Series, Bauer became essential.
In such circumstances, you might expect Bauer to wear body armor or stay out of drafts to avoid catching cold. Instead, he continued one of his lifelong hobbies.
“He was messing around with his drone – he wasn’t out in some alley at 3 in the morning and got cut on a beer can,” Cleveland Manager Terry Francona said. “It wasn’t remotely malicious.”
But its impact was just as damaging. Bauer, who bled on the mound in his last start against Toronto and had to be removed in the first inning, lasted 11 outs in this game. But the reason for his removal was, for the Indians, something worse than blood. Bauer was ineffective, unimpressive and lucky that he was charged with only two runs while needing 87 pitches for less than four innings. The worst news: He is probably the Indians’ least-bad alternative for a Game 5 start at Wrigley Field.
The World Series generally refuses to comply with those who wish to read trends into a single game. So back in Chicago, this Series probably has surprises in store. But for one night, a classic unexpected Series hero in Schwarber, plus two crucial pitchers – Arrieta and Bauer – headed in opposite directions, made this feel like a Cubs victory with legs – and paws with claws, too.