CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber was followed by cameras and cellphones. A couple of pitchers from the Cleveland Indians played hacky sack in the outfield. The giant videoboard in left field flashed “World Series.”
So, no, nothing like the last Fall Classic at Wrigley Field.
The World Series returns to one of baseball’s iconic ballparks on Friday when the Cubs and Indians face off in Game 3 after splitting the first two nights in chilly Cleveland. It’s the first World Series game at Wrigley since Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg helped the Detroit Tigers to a 9-3 victory in Game 7 on October 10, 1945 .
The expectation is, well, even more bedlam than usual. The Cubs, seeking their first championship in 108 years, played in front of packed, frenzied crowds for much of the season, and even the Indians are looking forward to the scene.
“Tomorrow’s going to be unbelievable,” Cleveland slugger Mike Napoli said. “I watched when they clinched to go to the World Series and how crazy it was and seeing the fans in the streets where they had to have police escorts. You could just see the crowd just part ways.
“So it’s going to be fun. It’s something that I wanted to be a part of, and thought that it would be an unbelievable World Series,” he said.
It’s been pretty great so far, and it’s only getting started.
Corey Kluber pitched the Indians to a 6-0 win on Tuesday, striking out nine in a dazzling performance. After Josh Tomlin makes his third playoff start in the Wrigley opener, Kluber looms over Game 4 on Saturday night on short rest.
The Cubs returned to Chicago on a high after working over Cleveland’s pitching staff in a 5-1 victory Wednesday night. Trevor Bauer lasted just 3 2/3 innings, beginning a parade to the mound that included six relievers and a total of 196 pitches.
“That was the plan, to get at least one over there and bring it back home,” second baseman Javier Báez said. “Everybody is excited to be here in Chicago. Everybody has been waiting for this moment.”
Schwarber will be relegated to pinch-hitting moments for the next three games after doctors said it was too soon after major left knee surgery to risk putting him in the outfield. The move takes one of Chicago’s best bats out of the lineup after a surprising return by the slugger for the Series.
“We’re going to respect the doctors,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “They’re the professionals here and move forward. Kyle understands that. He wants to play, he’s the ultimate gamer, but he understands that the doctor’s judgment has to rule the day in this case.”
Schwarber was ruled out for the year after he tore two knee ligaments in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler in Chicago’s third game of the season. But he had an encouraging checkup with Dr. Daniel Cooper on Oct. 17 in Dallas, clearing the way for a short stay in the Arizona Fall League before serving as the designated hitter in Cleveland.
Facing major league pitching for the first time in six months, Schwarber doubled and walked in Game 1. He added a pair of RBI singles Wednesday night , leading to lengthy phone conversations with Cooper and Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, one of the Cubs’ physicians, that ultimately led to the safe route for the 23-year-old catcher/outfielder.
“Facts are facts,” Schwarber said. “I just can’t physically do it. So I’m going to be ready at any time during the game to go out there and pinch-hit.”
The lack of a designated hitter for the NL park also affects the Indians, likely sending Carlos Santana to left field for only the second time in his career. He also played left for four innings on Aug. 12, 2012, against Boston.
“We’re thinking about it,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think, I mean, there’s no reason not to — it’s no big secret, we’re trying to balance scoring more runs than them. OK, he’s a big part of our offense.”
Santana set career highs with 34 homers and 87 RBIs this season. The switch-hitter also walked 99 times and had a .259 batting average for his best number since he hit .268 in 2013.
The Indians managed just four hits against Jake Arrieta and two relievers in Game 2, and they are looking at another challenging matchup with Kyle Hendricks going for the Cubs at Wrigley. The major league ERA leader had a 1.32 ERA in 15 home games this year, and is coming off 7 1/3 shutout innings against Los Angeles in the clinching Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
“It just feels like I’m right at home, honestly,” Hendricks said. “I think that’s part of why I’ve had the success here.”