Jon Lester’s frustrations boil over after Cubs lose to Cardinals: ‘I’m over this damn slide rule’

Jon Lester’s frustrations boil over after Cubs lose to Cardinals: ‘I’m over this damn slide rule’

ST. LOUIS – Jon Lester's frustrations boiled over with an epic rant that captured another classic moment in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.
"We're out there playing with a bunch of pansies right now," Lester said after a 5-3 loss at Busch Stadium. "I'm over this damn slide rule."
Major League Baseball's Chase Utley Rule certainly isn't the root cause of an 18-18 start, but the Cubs clearly aren't working with the same margin for error as last season or looking like the team of destiny that finally ended the 108-year drought.
Surrounded by reporters at his locker in the visiting clubhouse, Lester rolled with a question about a pivot point in the fifth inning, when Anthony Rizzo chopped a ball back to St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez, who flipped it underhand, high and wide toward shortstop Aledmys Diaz at second base. 
Diaz stretched to his right to catch it, hopped over Ian Happ as he slid through the bag and held onto the ball. The interference call handed the Cardinals an automatic inning-ending double play and protected their 3-1 lead – instead of Kyle Schwarber scoring from third base to make it a one-run game.
"I'm over it," Lester said at least four times. "There was nothing malicious about that slide. (Happ) slid three inches past the bag and we got a double play. I'm over the rule. The rule was meant to be for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide whatsoever."
Lester, the $155 million pitcher, approached Happ in the dugout on the day he made his big-league debut and told him: "Next time, you do the exact same thing."
"That's baseball, man," Lester said. "We're replaying if it was too far and all this other BS. We're all men out there. We're grown men. These guys have turned double plays their entire lives. They know how to get the hell out of the way. There was nothing malicious about it and we got two outs for some reason.
"That's the way baseball should be played. If it's a dirty slide, if it's a late slide, if a guy barrel rolls a guy, now that's a different discussion.
"Baseball's been played for 100 years the exact same way and now we're trying to change everything and make it soft."

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This became the postgame focus on a day where the defending World Series champs had a Triple-A Iowa feel with Happ, Jeimer Candelario and Tommy La Stella batting second, fourth and fifth in the lineup while so many regulars got treatment in the training room.

In front of the largest crowd in Busch Stadium III history (47,882), the Cubs committed their 29th and 30th errors through 36 games and allowed their 25th unearned run this season. 
As Lester (1-2, 3.45 ERA) fell short of the rotation's 15th quality start in 2017, manager Joe Maddon pushed the wrong bullpen button with a runner on and two outs in the sixth inning. Pedro Strop gave up back-to-back hits to the bottom of the St. Louis lineup – Tommy Pham and Magneuris Sierra – and all of a sudden a two-run game became 5-1. That dulled the excitement in the seventh inning when Happ notched his first hit in The Show, crushing a Martinez slider 413 feet over the bullpen in right-center field for a two-run homer.  
When two beat writers asked the same question at the same time during the manager's postgame media session – What about the slide? The play at second? – Maddon talked uninterrupted for two minutes and 37 seconds (or 33 seconds longer than the replay review).
"I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game," Maddon said. "That had a tremendous impact on today's game where outs are awarded based on a fabricated rule. It is created under the umbrella of safety. I totally disagree that was a non-safe play.
"You slide directly over the bag and you're called out where there's no chance for a runner to be thrown out at first base. There was nothing egregiously dangerous on the part of our runner. Don't give me hyperbole and office-created rules, because I'm not into those things.
"When you're sliding on dirt and you have momentum, you just keep going. I'm sorry, you just keep going, and there was no malicious intent there whatsoever, so I don't think it breaks the intent of injury. It has nothing to do with injury. 
"The rule does not belong in the game. And I'm not blaming the umpires. The umpires do a great job. (Second base umpire) Mike (Everitt) did what he had to do – and I told him that. 
"There's a tremendous disconnect there. And…in general I think we have a tendency to micromanage stuff that we have no business attempting to do."
Maddon brought up The Buster Posey Rule and how ex-Cub Chris Coghlan "almost broke his neck" last month with a spectacular leap over Yadier Molina to avoid a collision.
"So don't give me all this protectionism injury stuff, because I'm not buying into it," Maddon said. "It's tough for the umpires to have them enforce rules (when) they know it's not part of the game. They know that the game was not intended to be manipulated, in a sense, where you lose based on a fabrication where we could have scored a run there and made the game entirely different. 
"But we're out where there's no play at first base whatsoever. None. So don't tell me that's protectionism. Don't tell me a middle infielder was protected. And don't tell me a middle infielder was in danger right there. None of that holds up.
"So I would like to see that rule ejected. I would like to see the rule at the plate ejected. They have no place in our game, because it's under false pretenses. 
"That was one out they did not have to earn and I totally, absolutely, unequivocally disagree with that, because it has nothing to do with safety and protecting the middle infielder."
Sitting at a desk, Maddon paused for a moment and looked up at the reporters crowded into the office: "Was that clear?"

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

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“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs’ their best chance to have success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”


Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

The days of Cubs mental skills coach John Baker holding an armchair cushion between him and the catcher as he calls balls and strikes may be over.

Professional umpires will soon take over the responsibility of calling the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmages. Crew chief Tony Randazzo and his umpire crew will embed themselves at Cubs Summer Camp, manager David Ross announced Sunday.

“I think it’s going to affect the mental skills department too,” Ross said, laughing. “Yeah, I’m excited about getting real umpires up here. Bake’s been doing a good job for us, but every chance we get an opportunity to turn up the dial and make it as game-like as possible, the better.”

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From his playing days as a catcher, Ross is familiar with Randazzo. Ross said he’s excited about using the umpires as a “sounding board" for questions. 

The introduction of MLB umpires, which is expected to be implemented across the league, is also set up to give umpires practice before the regular season.

The Cubs’ earliest scrimmages, as well as Sunday’s intrasquad game, featured catchers calling balls and strikes, which Ross called, “fun and unique.”

“Being in that situation in the past,” the former catcher said, laughing, “you’re not going to make anybody happy when you punch them out.”

In the middle of the week, Baker took over umpiring duties. Baker has Tier 1 clearance – the Cubs deemed his role a priority, especially in the midst of a pandemic – so he has on-field access.

“Well, after umpiring 5 ½ (innings) tonight,” Baker posted to Twitter on Thursday, “I can say that that job is much harder than it looks on TV. I’m exhausted.”