CLEVELAND -- He stands outside the interview room after he has finished talking about Game 2 of the World Series and the night his team got even with the Indians. Joe Maddon, as cool as ever on a cold Series night, always the coolest guy in the room, is in no big rush to go anywhere right now, because he knows he is on his way back to Wrigley Field. It is the baseball place he calls "crazy good," the place he says is the best there is in American sports. He and the Cubs go back there on Friday night and take the Series with them, for the first time in 71 years.
Maddon is still wearing the knit cap he wore for the game. Still looks cold after the long baseball night. But he is smiling, because he is still talking about a kid named Kyle Schwarber, who has become one of the great World Series stories, in Chicago or anywhere else, just by being here. There is more than a little magic to that. Sometimes you need a little magic in sports, even when you're as good as Maddon's Cubs. Maybe it wasn't a coincidence on this night in Cleveland that Game 3 started at 19:08, military time, maybe because it is the Cubs' time, at long last.
Inside the interview room, I'd asked Maddon when the possibility of Schwarber -- whose knee exploded in the outfield the first week of the season -- actually playing in the World Series, making the kinds of swings he had made across two games of the Series, was first raised with him. And Maddon said it had been in Los Angeles during the Cubs-Dodgers National League Championship Series, when Theo Epstein, Maddon's boss, told him that Schwarber had been cleared to hit by the Cubs' doctors. The kid took some swings at Dodger Stadium that day.
"Good," is what Maddon said at the time, still not thinking that Schwarber would be good to go against the Indians.
Only now the Cubs manager is outside in the hall after Game 2, talking again how hard Schwarber had rehabbed across the summer. And how Maddon kept encouraging the kid when he would stand next to him in the Cubs' dugout, across all the magic the Cubs had produced across the regular season even without Schwarber's bat in the middle of Maddon's batting order.
"I kept telling him, 'It's gonna be OK,'" Maddon said. "'Don't worry,' I kept telling him. 'You're gonna be as good as new.' But I was never talking about this year. Never. I was always talking about next year."
Then Maddon repeated something he'd said inside the interview room: "I don't think we've ever seen anything like this. I don't think there are any comparables."
He shook his head. "To blow up your knee like that …" That was all he had. It was as if he was out of words trying to explain how six-and-half-months after surgery for a torn ACL, Kyle Schwarber had just gone 2-for-4 in a World Series game (3-for-7 overall). Terry Francona, who manages the other team in the 2016 World Series, put it this way: "Special players do special things."
"Honestly," Maddon said late Wednesday night, a few minutes before midnight, "he wasn't on my radar screen at all."
Only the kid went to Arizona and saw real pitching, and worked his hands raw. He had a chance to turn next year into this year. Crazy good chance. Now -- after a double in Game 1 -- he gets a couple of more hits in Game 2 and knocks in two and scores one and there is even the chance that Schwarber, who was the designated hitter in Cleveland, might make his way back to the outfield when the World Series returns to the North side of Chicago.
"I honestly don't know," Maddon said when asked about Schwarber playing the field.
"It's what the doctors will tell us," Maddon said.
"I have no idea," he said.
But if Schwarber can come this far since April, maybe he can make it nearly back out in front of the ivy at Wrigley. If you are a Cubs fan, the kind who has been rooting for next year your whole life, you have to think that if Schwarber can come this far then maybe it is finally time for the Cubs to go all the way for the first time since 1908. The official position from the Cubs is that Schwarber has not been cleared to play the field, and that they will absolutely not put him at risk. But again: Schwarber is one of those guys who believes everything and anything is possible, that nothing is out of his reach. Including this baseball October.
He can swing the bat the way he is swinging it, almost as well as Ben Zobrist. He can run the bases, even though Maddon told him to watch himself on Wednesday night in the late innings. If he just does that at Wrigley, if he comes up to pinch-hit in front of fans who thought he was gone for the year in April because everybody did, you can imagine what baseball will sound like for him in that moment.
"It was always next year," Maddon said before he headed down the hallway underneath Progressive Field to his clubhouse. "Always."
Except now it is this year, big and loud and bright. Now it is two hits and two RBIs in a game the Cubs needed. They fell behind the Dodgers two games to one and responded by playing their best ball of the year to close L.A. out. They fell behind the Indians in the Series and came back on Wednesday night. Jake Arrieta had a no-hitter into the sixth, the longest anybody had carried a no-hitter that long in the Series since Jerry Koosman of the Mets in 1969. But the Cubs needed to get ahead. They needed to hit. And did. Series even. Game on. All that.
"I'll probably cry at some point today," Kyle Schwarber himself said on Tuesday, before the Series started.
"Been a long road," Schwarber said.
"You live for this moment," he said after Game 2.
When he was asked if he might be ready to play the field in Wrigley, he said, "Don't know. We'll take it day by day and see where it takes us."
A lot went on at Progressive Field on Wednesday night, when Cleveland's pitchers, one after another, kept acting as if throwing a strike might somehow make the strike zone explode like a faulty cell phone. You started to worry that it was going to be the Indians pitchers, starting with Trevor Bauer, who would break up Arrieta's no-hitter just by keeping him in the dugout, freezing him more than the weather did, as everybody kept wondering when the rain in the forecast would finally arrive on Ontario Street.
Jason Kipnis finally broke up the no-hitter with a double. The rain held off just long enough. Aroldis Chapman got the last out of the game four hours and four minutes after it had begun at 19:08, Cubs time. But what you would remember best from Game 2 of the World Series was Kyle Schwarber getting his hits and making his Series batting average .429 so far.
He has made it all the way back. Who knows when he started to think he really could do this? Who knows when he thought something that had to seem impossible in April had become possible? Who knows when the kid thought October might actually be within his reach? There's an old line from Rocky Balboa about how the only person who understands a man's dream is himself.
Maybe that is why Kris Bryant said this about Schwarber when it was over on Wednesday night: "They're going to make a movie about him."
Terry Francona said, "I can see why Theo sent a plane for him. I would, too."
A plane to this year. To this moment for Kyle Schwarber. Some ride.