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Kyle Schwarber brings his postseason act to the Red Sox

BOSTON – Before Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber solidified his status as a big game player, he was just a high school student trying to impress a visiting college coach.

It was 2011, and Schwarber, a Middletown High School star in Ohio, knew full well that then Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith was there when he landed three homers in a game. . Seeing how calm the youngster was under pressure, Smith was quick to make him an offer.

“Great players do great things,” said Smith. “They seize these opportune moments. “

Schwarber’s talent for measuring up followed him to college and then to the majors. Smith remembers Schwarber’s home run in the Big Ten championship game in 2014, and his World Series performance in 2016, when he hit 0.412 after quickly recovering from serious knee injuries, winning as the one of Chicago’s North Side curse-breaking heroes.

On Sunday, Schwarber was back to his old laps, this time for the Red Sox, recording three hits, including a first home run, in Boston’s savage 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the third. game of their American League division series. As the Red Sox beat the Rays in Game 4 on Monday, he will soon make his American League Championship Series debut.

Schwarber, 28, was 0.305 with a 0.412 base percentage and eight homers in 28 career playoff games on Monday, most of them with the Cubs. In 2016, he and a core including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez won the organization’s first championship since 1908. But that core never won another ring, and Chicago spent the last year disbanding the group. Bryant went to San Francisco before the trade deadline, Rizzo to the Yankees and Baez to the Mets.

Schwarber, who was not tendered in December after a difficult year for Chicago, was the first of the group to leave. “He was very grateful to have spent time with the Cubs,” said Schwarber’s father Greg. “He honestly believed he would still be with the Cubs.”

Instead, Schwarber spent the first half of the 2021 season with the Washington Nationals after signing a one-year contract in January. He thrived for Washington, hitting 16 home runs in 18 games from June 12-29. A hamstring injury and a clearance sale of star players ended his tenure at the Nationals soon after.

Boston acquired the injured slugger on July 29. He finally entered the field for the Red Sox on Aug. 13 and managed to hit 0.291 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 41 regular-season games. From August 13 to the end of the regular season, his .957 based plus strokes percentage was the 13th best in majors among players with at least 150 home plate appearances, just ahead of Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees.

Drafted fourth overall by the Cubs in 2014, Schwarber hadn’t known any other organization until this season and had to adjust to a life on the move – a situation exacerbated by his eligibility for free will this offseason though he and the Red Sox do not exercise a mutual contract option.

“It is what it is,” said Schwarber. “It’s just part of the game. It’s the business side. There aren’t a lot of guys in an organization that you see staying their entire careers. When you see that, it’s very special. I was fortunate to be part of a winning organization with the Cubs where we made the playoffs five out of six times.

From his short stint in Washington, he lamented that the team did not perform to the height of their abilities.

“We were really good on paper, and the injuries kept piling up on us,” he said. “And the trade happens, and you get into a really good situation where you’re pushing for a playoff race here. It’s all you want as a baseball player, just to be in that kind of atmosphere and that situation.

Schwarber reflected on his change year ahead of Game 3 on Sunday, which Boston won in 13 innings. In addition to his stellar strikes, Schwarber, often a social media darling, delivered a self-deprecating viral climax celebrating with enthusiasm his execution of a routine sneaky throw to first base. He had botched a similar room before.

After amassing a walk and a run in Monday’s deciding fourth game, he heads to the LCS for the player and the team.

Schwarber, who also had a home run against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the AL wild card game, is 6-for-19 in what he hopes will be the early stages of his first playoffs with the Red Sox. His uniform has changed, but Schwarber thrives under pressure.

“There are some people who escalate at times like this. He always has been, ”said Fred Nori, longtime coach and friend of Schwarber from Middletown. “As to the causes of all of this, if anyone can figure it out, that would be interesting. There are just some guys who do. He always has.

Nori and others felt that Schwarber’s football background – he played linebacker in high school – helped develop his flair for drama. “He was just cool with it,” said Nori, who referred Schwarber to Smith. Smith mentioned a “mixture of humility and confidence”. Schwarber’s most recent manager, Alex Cora, credited the Cubs development system.

“It seems like this group from Chicago, all of these kids, understand what it takes to be a winner,” Cora said.

“One thing with him – and I think it’s more about Fenway, Boston, the passion – he performed in an atmosphere very similar to Chicago,” Cora continued. “With him it’s not that different.”

Schwarber attributes his success in the playoffs to an abundance of opportunities.

“I’ve been fortunate to be on some really good teams in college and in the minor leagues and early in the major leagues,” he said. “I had the opportunity to experience the wild card and participate in an NLCS my first year. Then I won a World Series in year two, another NLCS in year three. You can rely on experience when you are into great things like this.

Third baseman Rafael Devers and Cora praised Schwarber’s clubhouse presence in the playoffs, with Cora noting his influence on rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec. “He feels like he’s been here for 10 years,” Cora said.

While Schwarber’s status with the Red Sox will remain on hold until the start of the offseason, he intends to familiarize himself after a turbulent year. He and his wife, Paige, are building a house near Middletown, and Schwarber and his father are looking to revive the expensive business of youth baseball in a once booming steel town that “struggles to find its identity,” said said Greg Schwarber. .

“I love my hometown. It’s part of who I am today, ”added Kyle Schwarber, whose three sisters also live nearby. “It’s a really special place.

“It will be nice to be back home.

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