MLB playoffs – How Kyle Schwarber got Phillies to October

Kyle Schwarber’s home runs this postseason have been nothing short of majestic.

One walked 488 feet in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres last week, the longest home run in Petco Park history. Another – this time 429 feet – got lost in the trees behind the center field fence at Citizens Bank Park in Game 4.

Overall, the Philadelphia Phillies hitter has hit 49 homers this year, including 46 in the regular season as the NL leader and three so far in these playoffs. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he adds to that total on his second career trip to the World Series, which begins Friday against the Houston Astros.

However, Schwarber has always hit long home runs. And if he always seems to play in the postseason, that’s because he usually does. Schwarber has now appeared in five championship series for three different teams in his eight-year career. But he brings something else to October, something his Phillies teammates want you to know was even more valuable than his bat: his leadership.

“I compare him to Steph Curry,” said rookie teammate Bryson Stott recently. “You never hear Steph Curry yell at his teammates or point anyone on the pitch. And they follow his lead. He’ll pick you up when you’re downstairs. I honestly don’t know what it is. Just a nice person and wants the best for everyone.

“Plus he can crush the ball like Steph can let off 3 seconds.”

From growing up in Ohio to playing baseball at Indiana University to four major league stints, Schwarber has left an enduring impression. Those around him say he has a special touch – and not only with his teammates, but also with his coaches.

“It’s hard to say what he’s doing or how he’s doing it, but he was the only guy in my career – and I hate to admit it because I was the coach – that when I was scared of a big game, he was him was the only player I was able to talk to that gave me confidence for this game,” Tracy Smith, Schwarber’s Indiana college coach, said in a phone interview this week. “I can’t say that about any other player in my career Usually it’s the other way around.

“He’s relaxed me.”

This indefinable quality didn’t just appear one day. It’s in Schwarber’s DNA

“I think it was a combination of everything,” said Schwarber, who is from Middletown, a suburb of Cincinnati. “It was a combination of mom and dad. They were workers, a policeman and a nurse. They worked their butts off to make sure I could do the baseball thing and travel around and my sister could ride her horses.

“Then in high school … being on the football team where we won and learned how to win helped too. In football you have to work as a unit. Baseball is different, of course, but I’m trying to bring that same mentality to the game and this team.”

But the road from Middletown to where Schwarber is now — an integral member of a Phillies team vying for a World Series title — wasn’t as smooth as his postseason resume might suggest.

Smith is the first to admit his former star player wasn’t a high-profile player to leave high school — he hit a .408 with 18 home runs over the four years. He first opened his eyes in Indiana, where he hit 40 homers and hit .342 in three seasons. That led to the Chicago Cubs drawing him 4th overall in 2014.

Even then, the Cubs leadership believed there might be a special player in the clubhouse. Team President Theo Epstein compared Schwarber’s makeup to that of Dustin Pedroia, the beloved leader of his two World Series-winning Boston Red Sox teams. Pedroia was “the straw that stirred the drink in Boston,” according to his former manager John Farrell. The Cubs imagined Schwarber the same way.

But a horrific knee injury earlier in the 2016 season derailed Schwarber’s development as a player. Still, he earned the respect of his teammates as he admittedly worked “harder than”. [he] had in it [his] whole life” to return for the World Series that season as a designated hitter against Cleveland, who was not yet legal to the field. He became a forever folk hero in Chicago, hitting .412 in four games as the team won its first title since 1908.

The next season, the Cubs put Schwarber on top and he hit just .171 in his first 64 games. He hit rock bottom when he was demoted to a minor league for two weeks. All season, he hit .191 with a .312 on-base percentage while batting first.

“I was a really bad baseball player in 2017,” Schwarber said. “I mean really bad.”

It was around this time in his life that Schwarber developed a key trait that he would take to other teams: self-mockery. In a sport where failure is a constant, it might be the best trait to possess.

“He’ll say great one-liners,” Stott said. “If you have a little bit of trouble or whatever, he’ll be on the dugout rail and be like, ‘Hey, you’re the best out there, I’m the worst in here.’ “It just makes you smile.”

Laughing at himself was even a theme of Schwarber’s wedding day, thanks to his father. It was December 2019, not long after Schwarber’s struggles at first with the Cubs, and his father Greg was the first to offer a toast. He cleared his throat and seemed nervous to those in attendance before delivering the punch line: “We Schwarbers aren’t very good at directing.”

The place erupted in laughter.

A few years later, then-Cubs pitching star Jon Lester was preparing to leave the team via free agency after the 2020 season. As the Cubs prepared for a playoff game, the team brought Lester onto the field to present him with an emotional video tribute.

Instead, it was a montage of all of Schwarber’s field errors in left field while Lester fielded. Schwarber’s sarcastic narration under Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” brought the house down.

Most recently, while playing for the Red Sox in the ALDS last year, Schwarber made a mistake on a throw at pitcher Nathan Eovaldi while marking first. In the next inning, when he easily connected with Eovaldi to the out, his animated celebration for the easy game earned him a standing ovation.

“I think I made almost everyone laugh,” Schwarber said. “I’ll be the first to walk in here and say I stink. If we can make a joke out of this, maybe you’ll make yourself laugh and make someone else laugh who isn’t having a good day.”

“I’ve never seen a guy with that mentality like he has,” said Phillies second baseman Jean Segura. “He is our leader. The way he supports teammates, whether he’s doing well or badly. He’s just the same person.”

Nearly a decade into his big league career, Schwarber has also made it his mission to be a resource for inexperienced players. Many of his Philadelphia teammates are playing in their first postseason, while this fall classic will be Schwarber’s 15th playoff series.

“He takes the youngsters every day and puts them on the curveball machine,” said Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “He makes them feel comfortable. He makes them feel wanted. Helps you.

“This is a guy who goes through his own crises and while going through his he’s still helping others. This is a rare good.”

Third baseman Alec Bohm, who has endured his own trials and tribulations this year, has felt the effects of the Schwarber touch.

“He’s the guy that comes up to you while you’re fighting and says, ‘Hey, I was there,'” Bohm said. “It’s just who he is. He’s just a winner.”

Phillies players want it to be known as they prepare for the World Series, of course home runs are great, but their teammate is much, much more than a home run hitter. Schwarber has that touch, and even if they can’t always fully explain it, they can feeling it. And it’s one thing fueling their unlikely playoff run.

“Unless you’re actually in his physical presence, you’ll never understand it,” said Smith, his college coach.

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added: “As good a player as he is, he’s that much better in the clubhouse.

“He’s someone everyone flocks to.” MLB playoffs – How Kyle Schwarber got Phillies to October

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