Kyle Schwarber Proving Activation More Than Gimmick
The rebuilt man-monster crouched at the plate with that open stance and waited to pounce on the Trevor Bauer curve, fouling off what looked like a hittable pitch. Then he spoiled a fastball up and in before taking another that whistled under the wiry tangle that serves as a goatee (his creators wanted to make him as anthropomorphic as possible). Then came another high, tight fastball that he just undercut. Unseen gears turned and state-of-the-art circuits relayed information from the at-bat to the proprietary AI that makes the War Bear sentient.
In his next trip to the plate, the hydraulic pistons that make up his arms lay dormant for three pitches before firing at a piped four-seamer and driving it through the infield for an RBI single. 2-0, Cubs. By the time War Bear ambled to the dish in the 5th inning, the Cubs were up 3-0 and Bryan Shaw was on the mound and loaded for, well, bear.
Shaw zipped a cutter in that Schwarber took for a strike, then zapped another outside to induce a swing and miss. Gloved paws squeezed hard enough to force pulp from the handle of the ash Dinger bat as synthetic synapses fired with recognition. You could almost see him learning, adjusting. Shaw fired that cutter again, high and tight. Fans prayed, War Bear preyed.
Cutter number four came down the pike, this one out on the black. Schwarber schwung and beat another single into center to score Ben Zobrist and push the score to 4-0.
Trying to fight fire with fire, the Indians called on their own recently-activated star in the 6th. Danny Salazar retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on six pitches before walking Ben Zobrist on four. With two out, a man on, and a pair of RBI under his belt already, no one would’ve blamed Schwarber for being aggressive. Instead, he took and took and took and took and trotted on down to first for the third straight time.
A called strike three in the next AB ended the on-base streak, though it was a borderline call that’s hard to criticize him too harshly for taking. If anything, it stressed the humanity of the being the Cubs had created.
Okay, so Kyle Schwarber isn’t actually a machine. Heck, he’s not even a real bear. But how else do you explain what we’re seeing from him in Cleveland? What mere mortal sits out all but two games after completely trashing his knee and then comes back to DH — very effectively, mind you — in the World Series?
When the Cubs made the move to activate Schwarber, I figured it was a risk/reward scenario that would pay off because he might be able to run into a mistake from one of the Indians righties. Slugger gonna slug, or so I thought. But what’s been impressive is the preternatural calm this young man has displayed thus far. Kyle Schwarber is cooler than a fresh-out-of-the-veggie-crisper cucumber resting on the other side of the pillow. And with the eyes of the world watching, no less.
I know he’s been doing this most of his life, but hitting elite major league pitching ain’t exactly like riding a bike. Under the best circumstances, it’s more like pedaling a unicycle. Trying to do it now your sport’s biggest stage after coming back from reconstructive knee surgery is akin to riding said unicycle while juggling chainsaws. Blindfolded. And reciting the alphabet backwards.
Even if he does nothing else this series, a real possibility with no DH in the next three games at Wrigley, Schwarber has exceeded expectations. His double against Corey Kluber Tuesday night nearly left the hard and he drew a walk from Andrew Miller, neither a feat to be brushed aside. And then you’ve got Wednesday’s heroics, which further proved that the decision to insert War Bear right into the heart of an already potent lineup was indeed more than just a gimmick or a guess.
I’m not saying Joe Maddon or the Cubs brass knew they’d get what they’ve gotten, but they were confident enough in his talent and his makeup to know he wouldn’t be rattled even if he didn’t necessarily rattle any cages. Though he hasn’t been medically cleared to play the field, we’ll likely see Schwarber as a pinch-hitter when the Cubs return home. Unless…nah, let’s just leave the hope and hype at a dull roar.
When he does step into the box at Wrigley for the first time in 2016, though, I’m not sure how the place will keep from crumbling beneath the thrumming wave of incredulous excitement. Man, I’d love to have my surfboard ready when that moment comes. Anyone have a ticket they’d like to share?