CLEVELAND – Jon Lester understands the first rule of Game 7 in the World Series – “there’s really no rules” – so obviously the $155 million ace the Cubs signed for this exact scenario will be ready to pitch out of the bullpen on Wednesday night.
But Lester has too much respect for Kyle Hendricks – a fellow Cy Young Award contender this year – to make this about himself. Lester knows Hendricks will be thoroughly prepared to face this Cleveland Indians lineup. Lester respects how Hendricks always keeps his composure and won’t get rattled by the deafening noise at Progressive Field.
“Hopefully, nothing weird is needed,” Lester said after watching his teammates dismantle Cleveland during a 9-3 win in Game 6. “Hopefully, Kyle is Kyle and the guys that have gotten us here are called upon – and I keep my happy little butt right there in the dugout – and I don’t have to worry about anything.”
Manager Joe Maddon clearly has trust issues with his overall bullpen, using closer Aroldis Chapman to get the final eight outs after Lester controlled Cleveland for six innings during a 3-2 win in Game 5. Chapman threw 42 pitches on Sunday night – and then 48 hours later got four outs in a game where the Cubs had jumped out to a seven-run lead.
“If we’re in that weird situation and they have to bring me in, then we have three months to recover,” Lester said. “I’ll do what I can. If (Joe) wants me to get one out, if he wants me to get whatever, it's the same thing when I start a game: I’ll pitch until you take me out. I don’t make those decisions. Hopefully, it’s null and void.”
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Lester pitching in November would be the exclamation point to an amazing October. He beat Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants in a 1-0 divisional-round game and earned co-MVP honors in the National League Championship Series after the Cubs won both of his starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lester is simply one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation (2.62 ERA in 130-plus postseason innings), a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox who already saw this movie when Theo Epstein’s front office sent him a recruiting video after the 2014 season. It built up to the climactic scene where play-by-play man Len Kasper describes the Cubs finally winning their first World Series title since 1908.
“I think that was more to show off their video-board ideas than it was to recruit me,” Lester said. “They were showing me kind of the future of Wrigley and what it was going to look like with the video boards and the new dugouts and the new bullpen and all this other stuff.
“But ask any of us – ‘J-Hey’ (Jason Heyward) and ‘Lack’ (John Lackey) and ‘Zo’ (Ben Zobrist) and ‘Rossy’ (David Ross). That’s why we came here – to bring a championship to Chicago and be a part of that team that does that and breaks that whole deal.”