CLEVELAND – Lost in the Cubs’ scoreless World Series Game 1 on Tuesday night was the effort by Ben Zobrist to light some dynamite in their offense.

“How about Zobrist’s great night?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Yes, how about it?

Zobrist went 3-for-4, accounting for almost half of the Cubs’ seven hits. He led off the second inning with a double against Indians ace Corey Kluber, interrupting Kluber’s record strikeout parade. He led off the seventh with a single to get the Cubs started loading the bases. He singled again in their last attempt to rally, in the eighth.

The three hits duplicated his performance for the Royals in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series and tied a record set by Babe Ruth. You know that guy: the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout, the Great Bambino. (My apologies to “The Sandlot,” but this is simply too much fun, considering Zobrist is from Eureka.) No other players in baseball history have had three hits in the opening game of consecutive World Series; Ruth having done it for the Yankees in 1927 and 1928.

“Basically, we’re the same guy,” Zobrist deadpanned Wednesday afternoon. “Me and the Babe.”

On a more serious note, for anyone jumping late on the Cubs bandwagon, this bears repeating: Performances like these, and the way Zobrist goes about his business every day, are why the Cubs went after him when he became a free agent last November.

Zobrist’s performance Tuesday raised his career World Series batting average to .294. More impressive, he has a .441 slugging percentage and an .810 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in 10 World Series games.

Maddon sees that rubbing off on the Cubs’ dynamic young infield stars, shortstop Addison Russell and second baseman Javy Baez.

“Right now, (Zobrist) is such a calming influence, because he doesn’t get excited,” Maddon said. “You watch his at-bats: They are absolutely the same all the time. And I think as you look at the ascension of a Baez, for example, or Addison – I know they’re watching him. They watch how he’s never in trouble at the plate. Two strikes don’t bother him. He accepts walks. I anticipate over the next couple years you’ll see our young guys working those same kind of at-bats.”

Maddon has been a Zobrist fan since 2006. Maddon was managing the Tampa Bay Rays, who acquired Zobrist in a trade with the Astros. Zobrist was in the minor leagues when he joined the Rays organization, but not for long. Within weeks, he was in the big leagues, though he didn’t stick right away.

“I was kind of the designated Yo-Yo there for a while,” Zobrist said.
But he absorbed everything that was taught, took direction and impressed everyone with his attitude and work ethic.

“So many times, we sent him back to Triple-A,” Maddon recalled. “And every time he would leave, he would walk out, shake hands and say, ‘Listen, I wish you guys the best. I want to be here when you win.’ That’s what he would say when he was walking out the door.

“And he eventually turns into an All-Star.”
Three times, Zobrist has played in the All-Star Game, most recently this summer as part of the Cubs’ contingent that dominated the National League infield.

And this is his third World Series. He played sparingly for the Rays in the 2008 Series, against the Phillies. But he was a star last year for the Royals, who won their first championship since 1985.
During the Cubs’ march this October, Zobrist has come up with big plays, both in the field and at bat.

In Game 1 of the NL Championships Series, he killed a Dodgers rally by throwing out Adrian Gonzalez at the plate on a throw from left field. In Game 4 of that series, he unexpectedly bunted for a hit to spark a four-run Cubs rally that broke a 21-inning scoreless streak.

“Oh, my word, that was better than bunt cake,” Zobrist’s wife, Julianna, said. “I said to him, ‘Dude, do you get bored being so clutch all the time?”

Doubtful.

The only thing boring about Zobrist is watching him work. Like a lot of veteran baseball players, he is a virtual slave to his daily routine. He’s all business, moving from batting cage to the field, getting in work at whatever position he’ll play that day. During his career, Zobrist has played every position except pitcher and catcher. And while the Cubs acquired him mostly to play second base, the explosive development of Baez has caused Maddon to move Zobrist to left field in the postseason.

“Wherever you ask him to go, he goes,” Maddon said. “He’s a great influence on everybody out there. That’s his Benjamin.

“For Ben, it’s all about winning.”

— Kirk Wessler is Journal Star sports editor. Contact him at kwessler@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @KirkWessler.