Cubs slug­ger Sch­war­ber re­turns

World Series marks his first game since in­jur­ing knee in April

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Will Graves

The doc­tors told Kyle Sch­war­ber the day af­ter the Chicago Cubs slug­ger tore two lig­a­ments in his left knee on April 7 that his sea­son was over.

Funny how months of re­lent­less re­hab and a chance to play in the World Series can speed up the heal­ing process.

Sch­war­ber bat­ted fifth and got his first hit of the sea­son — a dou­ble off the wall in right field in the fourth in­ning — for the NL cham­pi­ons in a 6-0 loss to the Cleve­land In­di­ans in Game 1 on Tues­day night.

The des­ig­nated hit­ter’s lined shot came 201 days af­ter a fright­en­ing col­li­sion with team­mate Dex­ter Fowler while chas­ing down a fly ball against the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs. Tues­day was Sch­war­ber’s first time on base since home­r­ing in Game 3 of the 2015 NLCS against the New York Mets.

He hardly looked rusty while go­ing 1 for 3, get­ting his money’s worth in two show­downs against Cleve­land uber re­liever An­drew Miller with a walk in the sev­enth then a swing­ing strike­out in the eighth with two on and two out in a 3-0 game. Sch­war­ber’s fi­nal at-bat in­cluded a mas­sive swing at a meaty 2-1 slider that Miller un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally left over the plate. Asked if that swing in par­tic­u­lar had a lit­tle ex­tra on it, Sch­war­ber couldn’t sup­press a laugh.

“I mean, that’s a nor­mal swing,” he said.

And pre­cisely why man­ager Joe Mad­don put Sch­war­ber in the lineup in the first place.

“He def­i­nitely passed the eye test for me re­gard­ing swing­ing the bat at the plate,” said Mad­don, who added Sch­war­ber would “ab­so­lutely” play in Game 2 on Wed­nes­day.

Heady ter­ri­tory for a guy who

was con­vinced he wouldn’t see a bat­ter’s box un­til 2017.

“I took reg­u­lar vis­its to the doc­tor ev­ery month or two, and he kept telling me, ‘It’s go­ing to be spring train­ing,”’ Sch­war­ber said a few hours be­fore Game 1. “Then this past doc­tor’s visit I had right be­fore we went to LA for the (NLCS) he looked at my knee, he’s like: ‘Man, it’s great. You’re strong. I’m not go­ing to hold you back from do­ing any­thing.”’

Cer­tainly not the chance to end Chicago’s cen­tury-plus cham­pi­onship drought. Sch­war­ber played two games in the Ari­zona Fall League, go­ing

1 for 6 with a dou­ble and two walks, be­fore fly­ing to Cleve­land late Mon­day. One last checkup later, the guy who blasted a clu­brecord five home runs dur­ing the 2015 play­offs found him­self on the World Series ros­ter, giv­ing the Cubs an­other pow­er­ful left-handed bat and mak­ing Chicago re­liever Pe­dro Strop’s pre­dic­tion come true.

“He said all along, ‘Man, you’re go­ing to be back for the World Series,”’ Sch­war­ber said. “But the process was a long time. I mean, at first I didn’t think I was ever go­ing to have a nor­mal knee again.”

Sch­war­ber struck out in his first at-bat be­fore dou­bling off Klu­ber. The only rust he showed was on the bases, when he sprinted away from sec­ond with­out

tagging up on Will­son Con­tr­eras’ fly­out to cen­ter in the sev­enth — Ra­jai Davis threw home with a man on third, giv­ing Sch­war­ber time to get back to the bag.

While Sch­war­ber is healthy enough to swing the bat, it’s un­likely he’ll have much of a role out­side pinch hit­ting when the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3-5. Sch­war­ber hasn’t been cleared to play de­fense.

“Re­gard­less of how much you prac­tice and at­tempt to sim­u­late a game in prac­tice, you can­not,” Mad­don said. “That quick move­ment, that sud­den burst that you de­rive in a game, you can­not sim­u­late that in prac­tice. It’s im­pos­si­ble.”

Maybe, but the fact that it’s a de­ci­sion Mad­don even has to pon­der is re­mark­able.

Sch­war­ber spent the first six weeks of his re­hab off his feet com­pletely, his sur­gi­cally re­paired knee ram­rod straight. Then he had to learn to walk again, care­ful to not push things too hard, too fast. Not ex­actly an easy thing to do for a 23-year-old des­per­ate to get back and join the sum­mer-long party that ended with the Cubs post­ing a ma­jor league-best 103 wins be­fore rolling through the Gi­ants and the Dodgers on their way to their first World Series ap­pear­ance since the end of World War II.

The easy part, the fun part, came when he was al­lowed to put a bat in his hands and swing away. The self-pro­claimed “base­ball rat” would ar­rive at

the ball­park well be­fore his team­mates and spend hours in the cage, to the point where first base­man and good friend Anthony Rizzo jok­ingly urged Sch­war­ber to get a life.

“I’m like: ‘Sch­warbs what are you do­ing? Just watch base­ball and en­joy it,”’ Rizzo said.

No chance. His big­gest is­sue in the fi­nal days of his re­hab came from the blis­ters on his hands, col­lat­eral dam­age from work­ing in the cage. He es­ti­mated he tracked 1,300 pitches off a ma­chine try­ing to get his tim­ing back while in Ari­zona.

Sch­war­ber pre­dicted he’d tear up be­fore the first pitch and cred­ited his team­mates as his “rock” while he worked his way back. Un­like many in­jured

play­ers, Sch­war­ber would stick around to watch the games. Watch­ing Chicago put to­gether a dream sea­son with­out him wasn’t easy.

Then again, the sea­son isn’t over, is it? The proof came in a text from first base coach Bran­don Hyde that in­cluded Sch­war­ber’s name in the ros­ter for the first time in more than six months. And in the World Series. Top that. Game 1 didn’t pro­vide a mag­i­cal fin­ish. Con­sid­er­ing the path to this mo­ment, Sch­war­ber is hardly com­plain­ing.

“I could beat my­self for not get­ting that knock against Miller in the eighth with two guys on,” he said. “But it’s base­ball, what­ever. It’s go­ing to hap­pen. We’ve just got to move on to the next day.”

DAVID J. PHILLIP — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cubs’ Kyle Sch­war­ber hits a dou­ble in Chicago’s loss to In­di­ans in Game 1 of World Series.

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