PITTSBURGH — Jon Lester’s Cubs Way for young players learning on the job and experiencing a pennant race for the first time:
“This is going to sound really bad, but I’ve always been a big believer in playing stupid,” Lester said. “Being naïve.”
The Cubs wanted their young players to feel the thunder-and-lightning intensity of a playoff-type atmosphere against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
The Cubs got actual thunder and lightning on Monday night, sitting through two separate rain delays that combined to last three hours and 29 minutes before the game got postponed at almost midnight local time.
Manager Joe Maddon didn’t become frustrated with the way this 1-1 tie got wiped away after four innings, blaming it on unpredictable, shifting weather patterns: “It was truly a nature situation. Typical Pennsylvania summer.”
The game won’t be replayed this week as part of a doubleheader. The Cubs still have Jake Arrieta (11-6, 2.62 ERA) and Dan Haren (7-7, 3.42 ERA) lined up for Tuesday and Wednesday against the Pirates (61-43).
The Cubs (57-47) are already scheduled to return to Pittsburgh next month (Sept. 15-17) for another series that could have huge playoff implications. Lester remembered the win-or-else pressure he felt with the Boston Red Sox and how Maddon’s carefree Tampa Bay Rays did the worst-to-first turnaround and made it to the World Series.
“I saw it with the Rays in 2008,” Lester said. “They were naïve to the situation. They had nothing to lose. We have nothing to lose. We’re not supposed to win. We’re supposedly still in the rebuilding stages.
“If we make the playoffs, that’s just an added bonus. I like that. I like (how) we’re not really the underdog, but we’re (also) not really expected to do anything.”
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The Cubs are 10 games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2008 season, when they captured a second straight division title before falling into an organizational abyss.
It’s hard to remember another week that’s been this anticipated around the team (or at least one that involved actual, meaningful games and not trade-deadline intrigue, the debut of another hyped prospect or some Wrigley Field renovation update).
The Cubs openly overpaid Lester — $155 million guaranteed — for his been-there, done-that big-game experience. Lester got five outs and pushed Francisco Cervelli to a 3-2 count before the storm became too much and both teams cleared the field in the middle of a scoreless game.
The first rain delay started in the second inning and lasted two hours and nine minutes, forcing the Cubs and Pirates to scrap what had been a matchup between two left-handed starters with elite stuff: Lester vs. Francisco Liriano.
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The Cubs haven’t reworked their rotation yet, but Lester threw only 32 pitches and sounded optimistic that he wouldn’t have to wait another five days. The San Francisco Giants will open a marquee four-game series on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.
During the second delay, PNC Park’s video board in left field showed the Atlanta Braves coming back to beat the Giants in the 12th inning. That 9-8 loss at Turner Field moved the defending World Series champs to a half-game out of the second wild-card spot now held by the Cubs.
All together now: Play stupid.
“When we play other teams outside the division,” Lester said, “that’s when we can really kind of pounce on the situation and take advantage of that, maybe kind of sneak attack guys and take two out of three before they know what happened.”