A surreal night of history, Kyle Schwarber and strikeouts

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon shakes hands with Kyle Schwarber prior to Game 1 of the World Series. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND – It was a sign from above. Well, it was a sign anyway. Right up there on the massive Progressive Field big screen before the game began.

Chicago Cubs


Cleveland Indians

Had we stumbled upon an alternate universe? Had there been some sort of distortion of the time-space continuum?

Actual Cubs in an actual World Series game. Imagine that.

And then, as if this moment wasn’t big enough … as if the Cubs weren’t already tugging on enough heartstrings by getting to their first World Series since 1945 and trying to win their first one since 1908 … Kyle Schwarber walked onto the field before Game 1 Tuesday night.

Where the heck were we? Bizarro World?

No, its second cousin, the Fall Classic.

When the guy playing for the first time since the third game of the season isn’t the problem at the plate, you know you’re in trouble. Schwarber had a double Tuesday night, which was one hit more than Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo had combined.

With the world watching, the Cubs forgot how to swing the bat in a 6-0 loss. It didn’t look like stage fright. It looked like a hesitant team, which isn’t good news. Kluber will start Game 4 too. Better news: He can’t pitch every game.

The Schwarber development has been a stunner. The man-child who hit five home runs for the Cubs in last year’s postseason, the kid who was purportedly done for the year after blowing out his knee — that squatty, Ruthian figure had been penciled in as the Cubs’ No. 5 hitter after exactly two games in the Arizona Fall League. Crazy.

The people who run the Cubs know a good story, and the only way this story could have been better is if Schwarber were coming back from a knee injury and an alien abduction. If only his teammates had helped Tuesday.

You know that dream where you can’t walk? The one where, try as you might, you can’t get your legs to work? This was kind of like that, only it had to do with Cubs hitters’ arms. They wouldn’t move, which is why the bats sat on their shoulders so often Tuesday night. If it had been someone’s dream, it might have suggested feelings of being stuck in life.

This was real life, and it spoke of some combination of Indians pitcher Corey Kluber and batters who had no earthly idea how to deal with him. By the time the night was over, Cubs hitters had stuck out 15 times.

That’s no way for a team to reacquaint itself with the World Series after a 71-year absence.

Kluber kept throwing pitches, and Cubs hitters kept looking at them, especially on strike three. Of his first six strikeouts, only one was a swinging K.

“I’m not upset whatsoever,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “They pitched really well.’’

By the third inning, Kluber had eight strikeouts, the most by an Indians pitcher in World Series history.

World Series history. Let’s not skip over that phrase too quickly. It’s not a phrase that has been associated often with the Cubs.

Everything was the same Tuesday night. Ballpark, seats, people, National Anthem, ball, bat. The same as every other game that has been played in Major League Baseball for decades. But different in one profound way. It was the World Series, and it involved the Cubs.

Before the game, Cubs fans lined up behind the dugout along the first-base line, offering words of encouragement, and someone held up the ubiquitous “It’s Gonna Happen’’ poster. The fans were a splash of blue in a sea of Indians red. Or, more like it, a desert within a desert, two franchises parched as it relates to the World Series.

It was late October weather, 50 degrees that felt like 47 with the wind. Long-sleeve weather. Fall Classic weather. Another thing of which the Cubs and their fans aren’t familiar.

Schwarber doubled off the right-field wall in the fourth inning. His power was still there. The running speed? Not quite. He looked like he was carrying 10-pound weights in his pockets.

There were a decent amount of Cubs fans among the sell-out crowd, and you could hear them distinctly in the seventh, when the Cubs loaded the bases on a single by Ben Zobrist against Kluber, and then a Schwarber walk and a Javy Baez single against uber reliever Andrew Miller.

But Miller got Willson Conteras to fly out and struck out Addison Russell and David Ross. Cue the sad trombone. But this should be music to Cubs fans’ ears: Wait till next game.

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