Cubs flip script: Vintage Arrieta, Schwarber even World Series

CLEVELAND -- Throwback Thursday came a night early for the Chicago Cubs, as they used some vintage Jake Arrieta and Kyle Schwarber to even the World Series with the Cleveland Indians at 1-1.

It was late last season when the pitcher and slugger emerged as stars in Chicago, with Arrieta throwing his first no-hitter, and Schwarber was hitting mammoth home runs and driving in his teammates in key moments. In Wednesday's Game 2, they were at it again. Arrieta went the first 5⅓ innings without giving up a hit, and Schwarber went 2-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs to lead the Cubs to a 5-1 victory. One day after losing 6-0, the Cubs completely flipped the script on the Indians.

“To even be able to put himself in this position to be on the World Series roster and to contribute the way he has is remarkable,” Arrieta said of the 23-year-old Schwarber. “I've never seen anything like it.”

No one has, as Schwarber is 3-for-7 with two walks in his first two games in six months, after returning from a devastating knee injury. He was just one of many Cubs hitters to grind through his plate appearances Wednesday, as the visitors saw a whopping 196 pitches. That’s some old-school Cubs too, at least going back as far as the regular season, when they were masters of driving up pitch counts and getting to the middle of bullpens.

“That's what we do,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We see pitches, even like last night [Tuesday]. I think we saw 151 pitches last night. Normally, when you see 151 pitches, you score several runs. You don't get shut out. So I liked the at-bats last night, and it continued tonight [Wednesday].”

Scoring in the first inning and holding the lead throughout was the key to the victory, but that was briefly in doubt, as for the second night in a row, the Cubs' starting pitcher got the first two outs of the first inning and then walked the next two batters. Jon Lester wasn’t able to escape the jam Tuesday, but Arrieta did Wednesday to keep a postseason stat intact: The team scoring first in the National League Championship Series, the ALCS and the World Series is 13-0.

“That's our goal,” Maddon said. “That's our mantra on a nightly basis. If you look at this playoff run for everybody, the team that scores first normally has a pretty good advantage.”

The one thing that was not so circa 2015 was Arrieta’s command early, even while the 30-year-old righty was pitching with the lead. That has been his problem on and off this season, though he walked only one batter after the first inning.

“I kind of had my foot on the gas a little too much at the start, trying to do more than I needed to,” Arrieta said. “Then I really got back to just executing good pitches towards the bottom of the strike zone.”

It caused catcher Willson Contreras to run out to the mound several times.

“I went out there and told him not to try to do too much with his pitches,” Contreras said.

Then the outs started to pile up -- easy ones. The Indians finally broke through when Jason Kipnis doubled to end the no-hitter in the sixth inning, but by then the Cubs led 5-0. The game was pretty much in hand, thanks to Arrieta and, of course, Schwarber. His legend continues to grow, wowing teammates and fans alike. He smashed two balls for RBI hits -- one on a 3-0 count.

“Yeah, I had the green light,” Schwarber said. “I just wanted a good pitch to hit. 3-0, really big advantage count for me, he has to throw a strike. So I thought, if he just threw it over the plate and I put a good swing on, a good thing will happen, and there we go.”

Dexter Fowler was asked what has impressed him most about Schwarber’s at-bats.

“The fact that he hasn’t had any,” Fowler said. “He jumps in here, and it feels like he’s been here all year.”

Added Contreras: "I love Schwarber. I told him, 'You have a big heart, and you’re going to do something special.' "

The Cubs are inching their way toward doing something special themselves, and now they’ll have three games at Wrigley Field -- beginning Friday -- to bring them closer to a title. On Wednesday, it felt as though the old Cubs were back. Arrieta was giving up nothing, the lineup was grinding its way to a win, and Schwarber was hitting baseballs with authority.

“You all talk history. We’re just trying to make it,” Fowler said with a smile.

Inevitably, the conversation with many players came back around to Schwarber. Can he play the field at Wrigley after being the designated hitter the first two games? The Cubs will answer that in the coming hours, but his teammates think they already know.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” Kris Bryant said. “I know he can do it. After these two games, he probably has enough confidence to go do it. They’re going to make a movie about him.”

And perhaps about the Cubs as well.