A memorable night with the Schwarb-O-Meter

The email from Dave Cihla (aka the Shawon-O-Meter/Schwarb-O-Meter guy) came just as I was about to head out the door. When I saw it, my first thought was that something had come up and he had to postpone our scheduled interview, which was to take place at a quiet bar east of Wrigley. But that wasn’t the case.

“Wanna do the Meter tonight? My treat,” he wrote.

He’d found bleacher tickets on StubHub for $8.50 – cheaper, he noted, than the cost of a beer at Wrigley.

It was drizzling and about 45 degrees. My better instincts were to decline the offer. I’ve never been good at listening to those instincts. I thought of Miles in the movie “Risky Business” telling Joel: “Sometimes you gotta say, ‘What the f-‘”

“Let’s do it,” I told Dave, throwing caution to the wind blowing off the lake.

Dave had gained bleacher fame in the late eighties and early nineties with his Shawon-O-Meter, a hand-made placard that tracked shortstop Shawon Dunston’s batting average. One of those signs is now featured in a display case showcasing Cubs photos and memorabilia underneath the left field bleachers.

Now, a quarter century later, Dave is back with a new hand-made sign, the Schwarb-O-Meter, which tracks outfielder Kyle Schwarber’s slugging percentage. He brought it to all four games that the Cubs played in Cleveland during the World Series last fall, raising it above his head every time the young slugger stepped to the plate. Schwarber miraculously had come back from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered in game 3 of the season to be the Cubs’ designated hitter in the championship series. Schwarber cemented legendary status by hitting safely in all four games as DH, going 7-for-17 (.412 batting average), including 3-for-5 in Game 7.

Entering last night’s game, the 23-year-old left fielder was in the worst slump of his young career. His batting average had dipped below the Mendoza line, to .196, and he’d only had two hits in his last 25 at bats. The slugging percentage on the Schwarb-O-Meter read a dismal .330.

Things didn’t look much better at the start of last night’s game against the Phillies. Batting leadoff, Schwarber flied out softly to left in the bottom half of the first. In the bottom of the third he hit a weak grounder to the pitcher. He had not had a hit in his last ten at bats.

Then came the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, pitcher Jon Lester surprised everyone by cracking a solid single up the middle, keeping the inning alive. Javy Baez followed with a sharp single to right, moving Lester to second.

Dave raised the Schwarb-O-Meter, which had dipped to .323, above his head as Schwarber stepped to the plate. The score is tied 2-2. “He’s due,” I said, hopefully.

The lefty took the first two pitches from right-hander Jeremy Hellickson for balls. Then he connected on the 2-0 count, lifting the ball to the opposite field. It landed in the left field bleachers, not far from where Dave and I sat in wide-eyed wonderment.

Schwarb-O-Meter2The homer – the 20th of Schwarber’s career – came in his 97th game and made him the quickest to the 20-homer mark in Cubs history.

Schwarber went hitless his last two at-bats of the night, finishing the night 1-for-5. But that one swing made the difference in the game, as the Cubs went on to cruise to an 8-3 victory, ending a two-game skid and keeping them atop the National League Central.

‘‘When anybody’s struggling like that, I often tell him, ‘It takes one at-bat to have a great night,’” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the post-game press conference. ‘‘He had a great night.’’

Indeed, he did. And so did I.

Oh, and the Schwarb-O-Meter? It’s at .353…and rising.

Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation