GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jon Lester — a transformative figure as the Cubs shed their Lovable Loser label and finally became World Series champions — will be the Opening Day starter against Dexter Fowler and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
As expected, Cubs manager Joe Maddon met with Lester on Thursday morning and told the lefty he would get the April 2 assignment on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," setting up Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta for Game 2 in St. Louis.
Lester is clearly the most accomplished pitcher in camp, as a three-time World Series champ, four-time All Star and finalist for last year's National League Cy Young Award. The Cubs chose Lester to start Game 1 in all three playoff rounds last October, knowing his reputation as one of the best playoff performers of his generation.
"He definitely earned it and deserves it," Maddon said before a Cactus League game against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. "And then I also talked to Jake about being the No. 2 guy. Jake obviously understood why we went with Jon first."
There is some symbolism to being an Opening Day starter, as well as the $155 million investment the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein's front office made after a last-place finish in 2014, giving Lester the biggest contract in franchise history at the time and showing people the Cubs would be serious about winning.
"To be honest with you, I didn't really care about other people when I made that decision," Lester said. "I wanted to make the decision for me and my family and make sure it was the right one.
"Secondly, I made the decision to win, and we did that. I was happy with the decision from the day I signed the contract. I didn't want to look back. I didn't want to second-guess myself. It's easy now to say: 'Well, yeah, I made a great decision, because we won.'
"But even if we hadn't won to this point, I still feel like I made the right decision, with these people and this organization. The way the ownership and Theo on down treat us as players — and the way they treat our families — is second to none.
"I am beyond thrilled and happy that we did make that decision to come here, regardless."
After feeling slighted by an initial lowball offer from the Boston Red Sox — the team that drafted, developed and traded him — Lester turned down a bigger guarantee from the San Francisco Giants for the chance to be part of The Team in Chicago.
Lester — who has now made at least 31 starts for nine straight years and put eight 200-inning seasons on his resume — solidified a rotation that watched a supremely confident Arrieta blossom into an ace and the mild-mannered Kyle Hendricks turn into an ERA titleholder.
"Yeah, Kyle was throwing things" after not being named the Opening Day starter, Maddon joked. "I saw Lester walk by him and probably say something to him, and then all of a sudden stuff was like flying all over the weight room. And I knew that Jon broke the news to him."
As much as "Bryzzo Souvenir Co.," the other young stars and a historic defense deserve credit, the Cubs won 200 games across the last two seasons on the strength of their rotation.
"Not many clubs have that luxury," Maddon said. "Jake, for two years in a row, has really done an outstanding job, so has Jon Lester. Of course, the ascension of Kyle, then John Lackey, a lot of good options there, man.
"But obviously it has to go to Jon Lester, based on the body of work. We feel really good about that. You feel great about Jake behind him, and then however we want to set up 3-4-5 to follow. It's good stuff."