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?"