There’s been a bit of controversy over some of my selections in the “20 greatest,” and that’s to be expected. Each of us has his or her own opinion of “greatest” when it comes to home runs. This is, obviously, mine.
But I’m pretty sure you all expected to see this one on this list, and here it is.
At the time this home run was hit, Kyle Schwarber had played 69 major-league games. He had more or less settled into a role as the Cubs’ everyday left fielder, though he’d occasionally be slotted into right field, and in fact, that’s where he was on this night, as the Cubs faced the Pirates at PNC Park in the 2015 Wild Card Game. The reason Joe Maddon put Kyle in right field at PNC is that left and left-center at PNC have a lot of acreage and Joe figured Kyle could cover right, which has much less area to cover at that ballpark.
(Side note: See if you can guess who started in left field for the Cubs that night without looking at the boxscore link. Don’t ruin it for others by posting the answer in the comments.)
Jake Arrieta, who had been otherworldly for the second half of 2015, faced Gerrit Cole. Cole wasn’t then the pitcher he is now, but he had posted a 4.4 bWAR season and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. It was a great pitching matchup.
Schwarber got to Cole in the first inning. Dexter Fowler led off with a single and stole second, and Kyle gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead with a single to left.
Arrieta and Cole then matched zeroes through two.
Fowler singled again with one out in the third.
Schwarber sent a Cole offering into the general direction of the Allegheny River:
Just how far did that ball go, you ask? (Pat Hughes’ radio call on this one.)
450 feet at 111 miles per hour? From a 22-year-old rookie? In the biggest game of his career? Yep, that puts this one fairly high on the “greatest” list. Beyond all that, the home run gave the Cubs some breathing room in this important game. You’ll surely remember where you were when you saw this blast. I was among the many Cubs fans in PNC Park that night and that homer, I think, really did give all of us the idea that yeah, maybe the Cubs really did belong here. Fowler added a solo shot off Cole in the fifth, so Kyle and Dexter accounted for all the scoring in the game.
Jake Arrieta, of course, threw a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in that game and the Cubs were on to face the Cardinals in the division series. A shout-out to the Pirates fans there that night, gracious in defeat, urging the Cubs to beat the Cardinals, which did indeed happen.
And I can almost still see the baseball hit by Kyle Schwarber sailing into that warm Pittsburgh night.