BOSTON -- For the “win or go home” American League Wild Card Game against the Yankees on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Red Sox manager Alex Cora flip-flopped the top of his batting order.
The move worked, with Schwarber crushing a home run 435 feet to lead off the bottom of the third inning of Boston's 6-2 win. The Red Sox advanced to the AL Division Series against the Rays.
The homer, which extended Boston’s lead in the game to 3-0, was reminiscent of a past Wild Card Game for both the batter and pitcher. In 2015, Schwarber, then a rookie with the Cubs, took Cole, then a member of the Pirates, deep to give Chicago a three-run lead. Schwarber’s ’15 blast also came in the third inning, though it was a two-run homer vs. Tuesday’s solo shot.
“Gerrit is one of the best pitchers in the game,” Schwarber said. “That's one of the reasons he got paid that much money. He's one of the best pitchers in the game. And for us to have the at-bats that we did against him and to get him out early in the game was a positive for us, to be able to get to that bullpen and to start chipping away at those guys.”
“Just needed to split the lefties, [Schwarber], Raffy [Devers] and Alex [Verdugo], and that's the only way we can create balance in the beginning of the lineup without J.D.,” Cora said. “Kyle has done it. Kiké has put good at-bats against Gerrit, and we've got Raffy behind them, so where we are right now, I think that's a good way to ... protect all those guys up there.”
The fact that Schwarber went off while batting first earlier this season made the move even easier for Cora. In 27 games and 117 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter in 2021, Schwarber posted a slash line of .297/.385/.832 with 17 homers and 30 RBIs.
In a fun twist, Anthony Rizzo -- Schwarber's Cubs teammate from 2015-20 -- led off for the Yankees on Tuesday. It marked the first time in postseason history that the starting leadoff hitters in a game were teammates in the previous season on another (third) team, per Elias.
It was a big night for former Cubs in the leadoff spot, with Rizzo hitting a solo shot of his own off Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi in the sixth inning. Schwarber and Rizzo are the second pair all-time to homer in a postseason game as teammates (Game 4 of the 2015 National League Division Series) and then later homer in another postseason game as opponents. Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth were the first duo to complete the feat, together with the Phillies in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series and against each other in Game 3 of the 2016 NLDS (Nationals vs. Dodgers).
MLB.com reporter Ian Browne contributed to this story.