Jon Lester’s last relief appearance came nine years ago as the Boston Red Sox, ironically enough, were in the process of falling to 3-1 American League Championship Series deficit to the Cleveland Indians, only to storm back and win the 2007 AL pennant.
Former Red Sox and current Indians manager Terry Francona used Lester twice in relief in that series, with the then-23-year-old completing a seven-run 11th inning meltdown in Game 2 when he allowed a Franklin Gutierrez three-run home run. Lester returned in Game 4 to throw three scoreless innings in mop-up duty as the Indians took that 3-1 lead they’d eventually squander.
Since then, Lester has exclusively pitched as a starter, winning the deciding game of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies, picking up another championship ring in 2013 with the Red Sox and earning a $155 million contract to be the ace of the Cubs’ rotation after the 2014 season.
But with the World Series on the line in Game 6 and Game 7 Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, in Cleveland, Lester said he’ll be prepared to pitch if he’s needed to help deliver the Cubs their first World Series championship since 1908.
“Hey, whatever we've got to do,” Lester said. “I mean, this time of year there's no barriers, there's no nothing. It's all hands on deck.”
Lester didn’t want to step on the toes of anyone in the Cubs’ bullpen, praising the work guys like Aroldis Chapman, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Travis Wood, among others, have put in this year. The 90 pitches he threw in Game 5 shouldn’t be a hinderance, even if they were stressful ones.
If the Cubs do force a Game 7 Wednesday, though, Lester could be a critical weapon for manager Joe Maddon to deploy to maximize Kyle Hendricks’ effectiveness and bridge the gap to, potentially, Chapman.
“I love our bullpen,” Lester said. ‘I love what these guys have done, but if there's a match-up in there that Joe likes, I'll be ready.”