CLEVELAND – To get some perspective about what Kyle Schwarber is doing for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, consider this point: On Monday night, he was playing for an outfit called the Mesa Solar Sox.
That's an Arizona Fall League team. Where baseball wannabe Tim Tebow is playing. And where, oddly enough, the players on the club are jointly supplied by the Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
Until Game One on Tuesday, Schwarber had not played in a major-league game since April 7 after ripping up two ligaments in his knee. That's more than 6 1/2 months ago. For him to even be in the World Series is preposterous. For him to actually contribute is downright historic.
Schwarber had a pair of RBI singles in Game Two here Wednesday as the Cubs evened the series at a win apiece with a 5-1 victory over the Indians in Progressive Field. That's three hits in two games for the 23-year-old designated hitter – making him the first player in history to get a hit in a World Series after not getting one during the preceding regular season.
"I don't think there's any real comp for it, I don't," marveled manager Joe Maddon. "Nothing that I've seen. I'm just going through the mental Rolodex right now. I don't think I've seen that. He's insatiable with his work and our training staff has done a great job. So there's a lot of people that have helped this cause but he's a different cat."
Schwarber, remember, was ruled out on April 7 when he collided in center field with Dexter Fowler and crumpled onto the Arizona grass. He was carted off the field, his season declared over after four hitless at-bats. There was some thought a torn ACL combined with a torn LCL might render him unable to even be ready by spring training next year. But Schwarber proved to be a rehab freak of nature.
"I just took it day by day. I wanted to dominate the day," said Schwarber, who grew up four hours from here in the Cincinnati area and played at Indiana University. "It was constant grind. I had guys come to me and say 'World Series' and I would laugh it off. When it came to reality, it was a shock."
After taking batting practice in a cage during the NLCS at Dodger Stadium, off Schwarber went to Arizona to play two games. The first one had Cubs officials, including team president Theo Epstein, watching on an iPad in Wrigley Field while they were clinching the NLCS. There were no issues and off Schwarber came to C-Town.
"I can see why Theo sent a plane for him. I would too," cracked Cleveland manager Terry Francona. "That's a lot to ask but special players can do special things."
Schwarber had a screaming double to the right-field wall off Corey Kluber, one of the few hard-hit balls by the Cubs in their 6-0 Game One loss. He did real damage Wednesday.
With the Cubs holding a 1-0 lead in the third, Schwarber came up with two on and two out against starter Trevor Bauer. He got ahead in the count, 3 and 0, got a green light and ripped a ringing single to right-center – then pumped his fist as he rounded first. Rizzo crossed the plate and pointed at his teammate in adulation for providing a 2-0 lead.
"Obviously a lot of excitement. There's a lot of emotion there," Schwarber said. "A thousand things running through my head. I really don't remember that moment, it was that crazy for me. I'm still baffled about it."
It was more of the same in Chicago's three-run fifth, as Schwarber drove Bryan Shaw's delivery up the middle to score Anthony Rizzo. The middle of the Cubs order did plenty of damage as the trio of Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Schwarber reached base nine times (five hits, four walks), scored four and drove in four.
"I"m just trying to put in team at-bats right now," Schwarber said. "I want to help this team get to the ultimate goal. That's why I did all this for these guys in the clubhouse and this organization. It wasn't for me."
The score was 5-0 and that was plenty for Jake Arrieta. He no-hit the Indians for 5 1/3 innings – the longest stretch from the start of a World Series game since 1962 – until Jason Kipnis doubled in the sixth.
It was the Cubs' first World Series win since their 8-7, 12-inning victory over the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 8, 1945. That's 25,951 days ago, for those scoring at home.
Two days later, they lost Game Seven at Wrigley, 9-3, and had never been back since. Come Friday night, the series hits the Friendly Confines on Chicago's North Side for the first time since that Wednesday afternoon 71 years ago.
Baseball and Fox pushed up Game Two by an hour to avoid impending rain and it was a picture-perfect call. The rain started in the middle of the eighth and it was coming down hard for a spell in the bottom of the ninth. The previously scheduled 8:08 start would have been a mess, likely resulting in a suspended game.
The Cubs bounced back nicely from Tuesday's shutout defeat and their offense has been plenty productive in the offseason. They have had trouble against big names, namely the Los Angeles duo of Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill and Cleveland's Kluber, but have beaten up on middle-of-the-road starters.
In July as the trade deadline approached, it was widely known that Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman coveted Schwarber as the return piece to part with Andrew Miller. The Cubs said no way. Imagine how the fortunes of this season – for both of these teams – might be different if Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer had agreed to that one.
Now comes the big question as the series heads back to Wrigley: Can Schwarber play defense? A lot may be determined at Thursday's workout there.
"There's nothing about watching him that tells me he's inhibited right now," Maddon said. "He jacks everybody up. It makes your lineup longer. It makes it thicker. It makes it better. We knew what it would be like all year long. We didn't have it. And now we're going to have it in a short spurt right now and it's kind of fun. It's a great weapon to have."
Schwarber hasn't been cleared yet. We'll see if the Cubs change their tune on that front so he's not limited to pinch-hitting duties. And no matter when he actually strides to the plate, just imagine what kind of reaction he will get. Cubs fans will almost certainly match baseball fans everywhere with wondrous applause.
"Hey man, I'm living the dream," Schwarber said. "We're playing the World Series. What else can you ask for? I'm just riding the wave until it ends."