Indians will use Santana in left field at Wrigley
CHICAGO — Playing left in Wrigley Field isn’t easy under normal circumstances.
Carlos Santana is about to find out what it’s like — in Game 3 of the World Series with the wind blowing out to Waveland Avenue, millions watching on TV and well-oiled Cubs fans breathing down his neck.
Go get ’em, kid.
Unable to use Santana as his designated hitter with the World Series switching to the fabled National League ballpark for the next three games, Indians manager Terry Francona is planning to move his DH into left field tonight.
It’s risky, but Francona feels it’s the right choice for his club. Santana has only played four innings in left during his career, and that was in 2012 during a 14-1 loss.
“I have anxiety about it,” Francona said as he sat on the brick wall near Cleveland’s dugout Thursday night. “I don’t know how else to say it, and if he messes a ball up, I’ll take responsibility because I don’t think it’s fair to put it on him. But you try to figure out, ‘OK, what’s our best way to win?’ If we don’t play him out there, that’s the best way to have nobody second guessing me.”
The Fall Classic returns to one of baseball’s iconic ballparks tonight 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 Oct. 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.
Santana took some fly balls during Cleveland’s workout with bench coach Brad Mills standing nearby and offering him tips on tracking balls into the gap and chasing grounders into the corner, where he’ll have to deal with the iconic ivy that’s fading fast with winter approaching.
Francona said there was only one thing that would stop him from making the switch.
“If he just can’t do it. If he looks at me and says, ‘I don’t want to do this’ or something like that,” he said.
The Indians could play Coco Crisp or Brandon Guyer in left, but they don’t hit like Santana. He hit 34 homers and drove in 87 runs during the regular season, and although he’s hitless in six at-bats in the Series and batting just .179 in the postseason, Francona is confident the switch-hitter will warm up.
“He’s a really good hitter,” Francona said, adding he has spoken to Game 3 starter Josh Tomlin about playing Santana in left. “You can’t run away from your guys at this time of year. If guys go oh-for the first two games, and you sit them, they’ll never do well.”
A former catcher, Santana has also played first and third and the Indians are certain he has the athleticism to handle left. But there’s no way of knowing how he’ll do until they put him out there.
“He’s quick enough,” Mills said. “And he can move enough. We’ve talked to him about seeing balls off the bat. We might have to play him maybe a little deeper or something along those lines, just to have him come in so reading the ball, he has more time to read the ball that way. Those things. When you haven’t been out there, keeping that focus on there a lot of times is tough, but at least he’s got the wall behind him.”
Wearing a stocking cap as he sat in the warmth of the Indians dugout on a chilly evening, Santana said he’s ready for his new assignment.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “Tito, he told me don’t put on any pressure, play your game, play hard, stay focused and concentrate, and that’s it.”
The Indians don’t have many other options, and Napoli, who shared first base with Santana throughout the season, quickly removed himself from consideration despite playing 11 games in the outfield for Texas.
“It was a circus last year with me out there,” he said, “so I wouldn’t go out there in this situation.”
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 Baez 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.”