CLEVELAND -- The implausible became possible Tuesday night as Kyle Schwarber returned to the Chicago Cubs' lineup for Game One of the World Series more than six months after a serious knee injury had apparently ended his season.
Schwarber batted fifth and served as the designated hitter against the Cleveland Indians, going 1 for 3 with a walk. His booming double off the wall in right in the fourth narrowly missed being a home run. Schwarber is not expected to play defense in the series, and would thus only be used as a pinch-hitter in Games 3-5 at Wrigley Field.
Schwarber, 23, tore two ligaments in his knee in the third game of the season during an outfield collision with center fielder Dexter Fowler in a game in Arizona. At the time of the injury, he was ruled out for the year and there was even concern if he would be ready for spring training in February.
But Schwarber rehabbed the knee intensely, both in Chicago and at the Cubs' spring complex and headquarters in Mesa, Arizona. And in the last two weeks, just before the start of the NLCS against Los Angeles, doctors said progress had been so dramatic that a return this year might be something to consider.
"I'd say probably once I hit that line, that a lot of emotions will come pouring out," Schwarber said prior to the opener. "I'll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we stepped in between those lines, it's game time. I'm going to be locked in. I'm going to be ready to go and go out there and try to win this."
"First of all, the biggest thing was doctors saying he can do this," said manager Joe Maddon. "Was not anticipating that. Doctor says, 'It's incredible, but he's at this point. Yes, he's cleared to it.' Did not know that was going to occur. So once you get that information, then you research and you watch him."
Schwarber, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, hit .246 with 16 homers and 43 RBIs last year as a rookie. He made his biggest impact by cranking a franchise-record five homers in the postseason as the Cubs made it to the NLCS before getting swept by the New York Mets. He stayed involved all season in scouting and video meetings when the Cubs were at home and got the go-ahead after taking a few at-bats for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think Kyle's a little different, and I think everybody sees it," said Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, who will start Game Two here Wednesday against Cleveland's Trevor Bauer. "We're around him seven, eight hours a day. We see the focus, and physically, if he's ready to go, which he obviously is, nobody doubts his ability to go up there.
"Even without seeing Major League pitching of this caliber for a while, we're still confident he can go out there and produce. We don't expect him to go 3-for-3 with three homers, but I know that he's going to put up really nice at-bats, make the guy on the hill work, and help us win a game."
"I'm a baseball rat. I want to be involved in it as much as I can," Schwarber said. "A lot of things goes to this team and this organization for allowing me to be around. They were a big rock in my rehab. I could have easily just gone to Arizona, gone through the motions in rehab, but these guys really made me kick it up a notch. I'm here, sitting here today mostly because of those guys."
Schwarber was watching the Cubs' NLCS clincher on an iPad in the Mesa dugout during a game and Cubs training staff members had champagne for him in the clubhouse after the game to stage a personal celebration.
"I can't thank my teammates enough. I can't thank our staff enough. I can't thank the organization enough," Schwarber said. "They did a really good job of keeping me involved and making sure that I came in with the right mindset every day for rehab."
Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, who mangled his pinkie with a 10-stitch cut while working on his drone during the ALCS, says he's fine to make his scheduled start in Game Two. Of course, Bauer said the same thing prior to Game Three of the ALCS in Toronto and was forced to leave the game in the first inning as the cut opened and bled profusely on the mound.
"It feels fine," Bauer said prior to Tuesday's opener. "I through a sim game yesterday about 20 pitches. Threw it with max intent, just like in a game, as close to game intensity as I could possibly get to. There's no pain, no blood. I was able to execute all my pitches to a high level, and I'm really encouraged by it. I feel like I'm on a regular preparation for my start."
Bauer said he was confident the finger wouldn't bleed in Toronto but that hope was soon dashed. He said he has the same feeling this time, although it's clear the Indians are a little more certain things Bauer's stitches will hold.
"It hadn't bled the two days before that at all so I feel confident every time I take the mound," he said. "I wouldn't take the mound if I didn't feel confident I'd be able to pitch and help the team.
"I was confident last week, I said that I didn't think the finger was going to get in the way, and I'm going to say the same thing again this week," said manager Terry Francona, grinning to foreshadow an incoming punch line. "And if it doesn't work, I'm going to make the doctor come up here and talk to you guys."
Francona on the Indians overcoming their numerous injuries this season: "I'm pretty proud of the way we've done it. Everybody says 'we' and it really is. I mean, every time something happens, and it has happened, somebody in that room says, 'OK, how are we going to fix it?' And I have really enjoyed that atmosphere."