Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 27, 2016

A Vintage World Series Is Now Best Of Five

Just two games into the World Series and already fans have seen history made. Not just in a Series, but in all previous postseason games, no pitcher had ever struck out eight men through the first three innings of play. But there was Cleveland’s Corey Kluber on Tuesday night, striking out the first two Chicago batters he saw to start Game One, then fanning the side in both the 2nd and 3rd innings around a pair of hits. Nine outs, eight Ks and as the fans packed into Progressive Field roared their approval, Kluber earned a spot in the Great Game’s record book.

In the visitors’ dugout the Cubs had their own record-setter in the person of Kyle Schwarber. After striking out his first time up, Schwarber sent the first pitch he saw from Kluber in the 4th inning sailing to deep right field. For a moment it looked like the ball might go out, but instead it bounced off the wall as Chicago’s burly slugger lumbered into second with a double. There’s nothing extraordinary about a number five hitter smoking a two-bagger, until one considers that Schwarber was playing his first major league game since April 7th. That’s when he tore both the ACL and LCL in his left knee in an outfield collision, presumably ending his season after just two games and five plate appearances.

Schwarber went hitless with a walk in those two early season games, so with Tuesday night’s double he became the first position player ever to record his first hit of a season in the World Series. That Schwarber was able to rehab from his injury in time to play this year was remarkable, and a testament to his rigid discipline and will. But even more amazing was that he was able not just to stand in the batter’s box and swing, but do so with success against one of the game’s premier pitchers. Because the minor league season ended weeks ago, Schwarber’s only live game action during his rehab was a one for eight stint in two Arizona Fall League contests just before the World Series got underway.

The 23-year old, who smacked sixteen homers in sixty-nine games for the Cubs after a midseason call-up from AAA last year, added to his suddenly burgeoning postseason legend in Game Two. On Wednesday Schwarber went two for four with a pair of singles, a walk, and two runs batted in. Cubs fans would dearly love to have their young hero add to his list of heroics, but with the Series shifting to Wrigley Field, he will have to do it as a pinch hitter. Schwarber served as the DH for the two games in the American League park, and he has not been cleared by doctors to play the field.

Individual heroics aside, the World Series is ultimately about one team winning a championship. With two games in the books the conventional wisdom, as it was before the first pitch was even thrown, is that the advantage lies with Chicago. The Cubs led the majors with 103 regular season wins, but the best record over the first 162 games is no guarantee of success in the playoffs. There have been moments during the postseason when Chicago has looked vulnerable. The Cubs appeared headed for a Game Five in the divisional round against San Francisco, trailing 5-2 in the 9th inning of Game Four. Chicago appeared overmatched against the Dodgers’ hurlers after back-to-back shutouts in Games Two and Three of the NLCS. And after a wait of seven decades for a return to the Fall Classic, Chicago came out flat against Kluber and Cleveland in Game One.

After he scored in the 8th inning of Game 7 in 1945, the journeyman outfielder Peanuts Lowrey became the answer to the trivia question “who was the last Cub to score a run in the World Series?” for far longer than he could have ever imagined at the moment he crossed the plate at Wrigley Field in that losing effort so long ago. But once Chicago and its powerhouse lineup finally made it back to the Series, few would have guessed that Lowrey would retain his dubious distinction for another nine innings.

But Chicago rallied for four runs in the final frame against the Giants, sending San Francisco into the offseason. Then the Cubs’ bats awoke from their slumber against the Dodgers, pounding out twenty-three runs and thirty-three hits over the final three NLCS contests. The pattern was renewed in Game Two of the Series, when Chicago jumped on Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer for a 1st inning score, then added another run in the 3rd and three more in the 5th on the way to a 5-1 victory.

A powerful lineup of players who are also good fielders, strong starting pitching led by dual aces Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, with major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and veteran John Lackey right behind, and a fearsome closer in Aroldis Chapman, all add up to a roster that deserves to be cast in the role of favorite. If this Series does not return to Cleveland no one will be surprised, nor think poorly of the American League representative for falling short. Cleveland lost two starting pitchers in September, and was so lightly regarded earlier in the season that Milwaukee’s All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy invoked his no-trade clause to squash a proposed deal sending him to the banks of Lake Erie. Terry Francona’s ballclub has made it this far as much on guile and gumption as on raw talent.

Still the Series is tied, with the two clubs taking turns looking very good in one game and decidedly pedestrian in the other. They’ll play until someone wins four, and this being the Great Game fans know full well that the favorite on paper ultimately still has to perform on the field. The only certainty is that for one team and its fans, self-image is about to change forever. This is a Series between the two teams with the longest championship droughts in the Great Game. Over the decades both franchises have found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Soon enough one team will trade the loser label for something very different, and for fans of a certain age, somewhat disconcerting.

Before that happens the teams had to get to Chicago. Given the historic nature of this Fall Classic, it would have been appropriate had they traveled by train, like teams did the last time Cleveland won it all and Chicago had a chance to do so. After Wednesday night’s game they could have boarded the Lake Shore Limited, chugging west out of Cleveland in the wee hours, through Toledo and Waterloo, on into Indiana, past Elkhart and South Bend before finally crossing the Illinois state line and pulling into Chicago’s Union Station in mid-morning, the players disembarking before a large and enthusiastic crowd in plenty of time for a workout at Wrigley this afternoon. Of course that didn’t happen. Even in a throwback World Series that feels like it’s been made in Hollywood, the stuff of dreams and movies only goes so far.

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Responses

  1. Nice summary, Mike.
    Ω


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