PHILADELPHIA — Kyle Schwarber crushed a 98 mph slider, and the baseball disappeared into a thicket of arborvitae, holly, ivy and other evergreens flourishing as the backdrop to center field at Citizens Bank Park.
Most of Schwarber's homers land — and yes, they do land, even if it seems some of the Philadelphia Phillies star's moon shots might best be tracked through the Hubble telescope — in places where the ball is easy to find.
This particular ball, hit against the San Diego Padres on Saturday during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, almost needed a search party. The area was swept, not by the grounds crew as might be the assumption, but by the team in charge of collecting game-used memorabilia. Schwarber doesn't make it easy; he hit two into the bushes in one game this year, and it couldn't be verified which ball was which.
The Game 4 homer was found, though the authenticator was careful not to disturb one worn ball resting in a bird's nest.
"Trees and shrubs, you've got to really look through," said John Hollinger, who runs the authentication program. "Balls do get wedged in different spots."
Schwarber will say there is no spinach that fuels his muscle à la Popeye — even as his mammoth homers through the years have sunk into ivy or, in college, even smashed car windshields — and that he's just a slugger who happens to have a little extra oomph in his swing.
Let everyone else stand in awe of the prodigious blasts produced by Scwharber, who hit 46 in the recently completed regular season to lead the NL and has delivered three in the postseason, all against the Padres. He counts only the runs that each homer scores, not the distance, however impressive the figure might be.
"Everyone likes to talk about the far homers," Schwarber said Wednesday. "I really don't care how far they go for me. It's more about getting a run on the board."
The 29-year-old Schwarber has bashed and mashed baseballs his entire career, and his power surge in the first season of his $79 million, four-year contract with the Phillies has fueled their run to the World Series. Schwarber took his hacks during Wednesday's workout at the ballpark before the team traveled to face the Houston Astros, the American League champions whose Minute Maid Park is the site of the first two contest of the best-of-seven series.
The Phillies will start right-hander Aaron Nola in Game 1 and right-handed ace Zack Wheeler in Game 2. Houston manager Dusty Baker had not announced his starting pitchers as of Wednesday afternoon, but Justin Verlander is widely expected to start the opener with Framber Valdez getting the ball on Saturday.
Schwarber has done the bulk of his damage from the leadoff spot, another sign the game is moving far away from the days of speedy table-setters such as Vince Coleman or Rickey Henderson at the top of the lineup. Schwarber struck out 200 times and hit only .218 during the regular season, but he had a knack for hitting some of the memorable homers of Philadelphia's surprising run to the pennant. Despite going 87-75 to finish third in the NL East Division behind the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets, it's the wild-card Phillies who are still around and will try to take down the Astros — the NL West champs whose 106-56 regular-season record gives them home-field advantage.
Schwarber slammed a homer off the second-deck facade on opening day in his first at-bat with the Phillies. (He split the 2021 season with the Washington Nationals and the Boston Red Sox after spending 2015-2020 with the Chicago Cubs, who drafted him fourth overall in 2014.) He led off Game 3 of the NLCS with a homer off Padres ace Joe Musgrove. And the most legendary, so far, of all the Schwarbombs — as they're affectionately known in Philly — was the 488-foot blast in Game 1 against the Padres that had an exit velocity of 120 mph.
That homer — the second longest in any MLB postseason since Statcast started tracking distance in 2015 — launched 1,001 memes thanks to teammate Bryce Harper's bug-eyed, mouth-agape reaction in the dugout.
"I thought it got pretty small pretty fast," Harper said after the game.
Schwarber simply remembered the homer came in a postseason win. It's a run — no matter that Schwarber turns into some sort of Paul Bunyan mythical figure who can scare the leather off the ball with each colossal crushing.
"Who cares about distance?" he asked. "I think it's more about trying to impact a game in any way that you can, especially in important times, too."
It's certainly not his first postseason rodeo. (Schwarber's popularity soared like one of his homers after he rode a mechanical bull at the Phillies' NLCS party at a bar across the street from the ballpark.)
He has made big October games a habit since he broke into the big leagues with the Cubs and hit five homers in the 2015 postseason. The next year, Schwarber tore two ligaments in his left knee after a frightening collision with outfielder Dexter Fowler while chasing down a fly ball. It was only the third game of the season, and Schwarber almost figured his year was over.
But 201 days later, after months of relentless rehab, Schwarber returned to help the Cubs win the 2016 World Series for the club's first MLB title since 1908. He batted .412 with seven hits, one double and two RBIs in five World Series games.
After his midseason trade to Boston last year, Schwarber had a grand slam for the Red Sox in the ALCS, which they lost to the Astros in six games.
"He's done it in a lot of different places, and when that usually happens, that tends to not be an accident," Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. "Some guys just have that knack. They know what it takes to win. They know how to bring guys together, which I think has probably been some of the most important stuff he's done in a Phillies uniform."
Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson lauded Schwarber's clubhouse contributions and noted how the slugger has seemed to enjoy holding court in front of his locker with younger teammates.
"He's very outgoing and very honest with people," Thomson said Wednesday. "He jokes around about himself a lot, which makes people feel comfortable to approach him. He helps the veterans, he helps the kids.
"And he goes through slumps, too, or periods of time when he's not swinging the bat particularly well. Even though he's trying to fix his own stuff, he's still trying to help other people. That's a great sign of a great teammate."