Just when it looked like the legend of Kyle Schwarber was about to upstage the World Series, the kid slugger ran out of phone booths for his Superman act.
Schwarber, who captured the imaginations of fans across the country with an unprecedented return from a season-long injury, was ruled out of the Cubs’ starting lineup for the next three games when his surgeon would not medically clear him Thursday to play in the field.
“Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to, but there’s obviously the doubts of the injury,” said Schwarber, who suffered a devastating knee injury April 7 on an outfield collision. “It was a long shot at the most. I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”
It might not have been a question in the first place if Schwarber hadn’t stolen the show in Games 1 and 2 as the Cubs’ designated hitter – going 3-for-7 with two walks and a pair of RBIs as the Cubs and Indians split the first two games.
Playing big-league games for the first time in 6½ months, Schwarber became the first player in history to get a hit in the World Series after going hitless for the entire regular-season.
That hit: A double off the right-field wall in his second at-bat Tuesday, against former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who allowed only three other hits in the game.
“They’re going to make a movie out of him,” teammate Kris Bryant said after Schwarber came back Wednesday with two more hits in the Cubs’ 5-1 win.
Instead, he’ll settle for what’s expected to be a rock-star welcome from the crowd before Friday’s Game 3 – the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945.
“I remember just walking out on the line [for the home opener] when I first got injured and then back for the first playoff game,” Schwarber said of the huge ovationshe received. “It’s going to be awesome. It’s the World Series at Wrigley Field. It’s going to be electric. I’ll definitely soak it in.”
Even before Game 2 in Cleveland, Schwarber’s stunning performance and quality of all his at-bats in the first game inspired repeated media questions about whether he could play in the field when the Series shifted to Wrigley for Games 3, 4 and 5, without the DH rule.
By the time they finished Wednesday’s win, Schwarber and team officials already had started talking about exploring the possibility with doctors once they returned to Chicago.
It was only a week ago Monday that Schwarber got the surprising word from his Dallas-based surgeon during his six-month that his knee was stable enough to clear him to hit and run the bases. He was specifically not cleared to play in the field.
“When we told everyone [all summer] that there was no chance, that wasn’t hiding anything; that wasn’t spin,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of the word from doctors that Schwarber would not be ready to play games until sometime during winter ball seasons at the earliest. “It’s a testament to him that he’s able to push up his timeline that much and work that hard on his rehab to do it.”
Schwarber took his glove on the field Thursday and after taking batting practice headed into the outfield with coaches Dave Martinez and Mike Borzello.
But he did little more than stand in left field while teammates hit, then left the field through an outfield door.
As big as the national storyline had become – as big as his postseason legend had grown to that point – it turned out that not even Schwarber could pull this one off.
“The doctors were very convinced that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield,” team president Theo Epstein said, “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield – your instinct in reacting to balls—that just aren’t the case when you’re running the bases.”
If he had been cleared, Schwarber would have started in left field, freeing hot-hitting Ben Zobrist to move to right and help solve the Cubs’ production gap from that spot.
Instead, the kid who set the Cubs’ postseason record as a rookie with five home runs in the playoffs last year, becomes the team’s top pinch-hitting threat for the next three games.
If the Series continues in Games 6 and 7 back in Cleveland, he would be in the lineup again as the DH.
“We have a lot of confidence in other guys, too. We won 103 games,” Epstein said. “And on top of that, we now have Kyle off the bench to take maybe the most important at-bat in the game at a given point.”
Epstein, who pointed out the “complete blowout of his knee” was an injury that was expected to require eight months of recovery and rehab time.
“I think we’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the state that we’re on and our desire to win,” Epstein said, “[and with] that there is the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing acution to the wind. That’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.”
Kyle Schwarber has nearly upstaged the World Series with his dramatic return to play since a layoff in April, but Schwarber mania took a blow Thursday when the Cubs ruled him out for playing in the field when the Series returns to the National League site.
Schwarber’s surgeon, who cleared him last week to return to batting and running the bases, said the risk to his surgically repaired left knee is too great if he plays in the field, the team said.
“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said during the Cubs’ workout Thursday at Wrigley Field. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously I want to be out there with my teammates. I’m a competitor. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”
Schwarber, who served as the Cubs’ designated hitter for the first two games in the American League’s home site, will be available as a pinch hitter as the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3, 4 and 5 without the DH.
Cubs president Theo Epstein said doctors feared there was too much risk in allowing Schwarber to play in the outfield because of the strains it would put on his knee.
“The dynamic athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield, your instinct and reaction to balls, that just aren’t the case when you’re hitting and running the bases, ” Epstein said. “This was not just an ACL tear. This was a complete blowout of his knee, multiple ligament, with an eight-month-expected return to play, best-case scenario.”
The news was a downer for the Cubs, who returned home after a 5-1 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday tied the Series. Schwarber went 2-for-4 with two RBI in Game 2, a night after hitting a double off the wall in Game 1.
“We would all love to see Kyle out there, getting four-plus at-bats a game,” Epstein said. “But I think it was important to talk to a medical professional who’s objective and detached from the situation. I think we’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the stage that we’re on, our desire to win, that there was the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing caution to the wind.
“That’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.
“We’re all disappointed, but we’re all really excited about his opportunity to impact the game as a pinch-hitter in a big way and fully confident in the other 24 guys on the roster to go out there and help win us some ballgames.”