Kyle Schwarber’s long homer picks up Ben Zobrist, calms Cubs fans

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Kyle Schwarber saved the day with his three-run blast, but questions about the Cubs’ lineup will persist. (AP/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — Please, a quick show of hands out there in Cubdom: Who enjoys watching Kyle Schwarber hit a baseball really, really hard and really, really far?

So it’s unanimous, then?

Look, there’s no question Cubs fans were thrilled by the sudden, glorious Schwarbomb that curled inside the right-field foul pole in the seventh inning Thursday and saved the day, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead.

The Cubs went on to hang a second consecutive “L” around the St. Louis Cardinals’ necks. Starting pitcher John Lackey hung around just long enough to earn a victory on a day that had seemed to have “hard-luck loser” written all over it. That’s because second baseman Ben Zobrist dropped an underhand toss from shortstop Addison Russell on what should’ve been a simple 6-4-3 double play in the first inning, opening the door to three Cardinals runs that never should’ve scored.

Ah, but that Schwarbomb — 404 whistling feet of everything’s-going-to-be-all-right.

“We came to play,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We don’t quit. We got behind, but there’s no panic among the group.”

Rest easy. No harm, no foul. Cubs fans could delight in a successful afternoon and season-opening series against the team’s biggest rival.

Except, well, hang on a second here. Until Schwarber’s home run, many of those same fans were going barking mad on social media over the fact that Zobrist had been in position to flub that play to begin with.

Their point, in a nutshell: How can manager Joe Maddon be so foolish as to play Zobrist at second base when Javy Baez is in the building?

It’s no surprise it has come to this. Fans have been heading in that direction ever since Baez started every game of the 2016 postseason, becoming wildly popular for his fielding range, arm, magical flair and obvious everyday-player ability in the process.

And yet, it also means it has come to this: complaining about the same guy, Zobrist, who was last season’s National League All-Star starter at second base and the MVP of the World Series. Which is, on its face, kind of ridiculous.

But this sort of thing happens around every championship team in every sport. The fans become more demanding and opinionated, and a lot harder to impress. They also become more astute in their observations. Let’s face it: It’s next to impossible to argue conclusively that Baez shouldn’t be on the field as often as possible.

The situation at second base has the potential to be a far more sensitive subject in 2017 than it ever was in 2016. Or maybe it’s a given.

Take Thursday’s first inning. It wasn’t just the double-play exchange flubbed by Zobrist that had Twitter blowing up. There was a previous hot smash up the middle that Zobrist dove and smothered, allowing the batter to reach first base. It was a fine effort, but perhaps Baez would’ve gotten to the same ball, gloved it and thrown to first for merely his latest circus play?

“Of course people are going to say that stuff,” Maddon said. “What can I say? There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a part of the human condition that you can’t avoid. You can’t avoid that dialogue. It’s going to be there. All I can say is I don’t live by that method.”

And neither is Zobrist, who, by the way, maintains that he feels better physically that he did at this point last season.

“I feel great,” he said. “Of course I want to be out there as much as I can.”

Indeed, as any player would. It was a good first series for the Cubs. It’s bound to be another outstanding season. A tad noisier along the way, though? There’ll be no getting around it.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.



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