Jon Lester started a World Series clincher for the Boston Red Sox back in 2007, though his team ended that game celebrating a championship over the Colorado Rockies. This is a different scenario: After Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Lester will be pitching Sunday to keep his teams’ championship hopes alive.
The Cubs sold Lester on leading a starting rotation to the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908, and his big-game experience and loads of playoff innings were a major reason why they shelled out $155 million to sign him in December 2014. Sunday will mark Lester’s 21st playoff appearance and 19th start, and he has a 2.60 ERA over his 124 2/3 postseason innings.
With that experience comes a clear-headed mindset about how he’ll approach a critical start in Game 5.
“It's hard enough to pitch this time of year or play this time of year and be successful,” Lester said. “I think if you're down 3-1 and you're going in there saying you have to do this, you have to do that to try to stay alive, I think you've kind of already been beaten, you know? You're not worried about the right thing.”
Lester slogged through a rough first inning in Game 1, issuing two walks and hitting Brandon Guyer with a pitch with the bases loaded. He settled down and only allowed a solo home run to catcher Roberto Perez and finished his night having allowed three runs on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings, his shortest playoff outing since 2013 (a span of eight starts).
“There are a few guys over there that I haven't faced a lot, if at all,” Lester said. “So you'll be able to draw from that information, make the adjustments that you need to make from the previous start and just kind of go from there.
“You still have to execute pitches no matter what the game plan is against guys. And the guys you've had success against, you just try to continue to have success against, and the guys you didn't, you try to make the adjustments off of that.”
The Cubs believe Lester can return to form Sunday night in a pitching matchup that would seem to favor them, with Cleveland rolling with right-hander Trevor Bauer (3.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER in Game 2) on three days’ rest. That belief, though, needs to become reality for the Cubs to at least send the series back to Cleveland.
“Always, always confident, especially with Jonny going,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s going to sound cliche, obviously, but we feel good — we’re down 3-1 in the World Series, but we feel good about who we have on the mound tomorrow.”