If the Cubs find a way to score a run or two Friday and beat the Marlins in Game 2 of their playoff series, Jon Lester would have Saturday to himself on the baseball playoff schedule and centerstage on national TV for what could be his final start as a Cub at Wrigley Field.
Six years, five postseason runs, two All-Star seasons, more than 1,000 innings and one historic World Series after he was signed to open a championship window, Lester would be pitching to keep it from closing in a must-watch elimination game.
How’s that for a conspiracy theory behind Thursday’s Game 2 rainout at Wrigley Field on a sunny day?
“That would be great,” said Lester, who on Sept. 16 got emotional talking that night after his shaky start about the possibility it might be his last one there.
“It’s a special place in my heart and would be nice to finish up here on a good note.”
Conspiracy or not, Lester’s legacy as the best free agent signing in Cubs (Chicago?) history is secure regardless of whether Yu Darvish and a broken core of hitters can win him another start.
And if we weren’t sure what kind of teammate he was behind the scenes — the kind who bought rookies like 2015 Kyle Schwarber their first suits, bought jerseys for themed trips and treated the group to parties after big postseason series wins — we caught a glimpse on his way out of a Zoom session with reporters Thursday.
“I just want to say, guys, if this is whatever, thank you for everything the last six years,” he said. “It’s been a great six years here. But I wanted to make sure that I did get to say ‘thank you’ to you guys.
“It’s been a pleasure to play here with these guys in the clubhouse and obviously seeing you guys cover the team. There’s been some relationships built throughout the years that I really do appreciate. So thank you guys.
“I wanted to make sure I got that in … if this is it. Hopefully, it’s not, and I get to do another one of these [pre-start Zoom] interviews with you guys in a couple days. So thanks.”
For those scoring at home, that’s three “thank yous” and a “thanks.” To the media.
And whether he was necessarily talking to all of us, that’s uncommon, and classy. And probably speaks to the reasons teammates talk with reverence about him — if not the influence he’s had during a six-year run of winning seasons the Cubs haven’t seen since Leo Durocher 50 years ago.
This is a guy who, when the Cubs played in Atlanta in July 2017, commuted in from his nearby home with his three World Series rings and showed them off to a clubhouse full of guys who spent the first half of that season hungover from their one championship. The Cubs swept that series on the way to coming from 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers at the All-Star break to win the division.
Lester toasted John Lackey in the clubhouse at the end of Lackey’s final season that year and addressed teammates last year on behalf of exiting veterans Ben Zobrist, Pedro Strop and Joe Maddon.
But about his own ride into another horizon? What will he say?
“I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve always been more of an off-the-cuff person than a plan person,” said Lester, whose $25 million contract option is certain to be declined for the $10 million buyout cost. “If this is it, this is it. I have to move on with it.
“I’ve definitely appreciated everything this organization has done for me, and I hope it’s not it. I hope we can figure something out for next year, and these conversations are kind of null and void.”
Maybe that’s all he has to say: that he’s not ready to say anything about going anywhere yet.
General manager Jed Hoyer said two weeks ago that he expects to have conversations with Lester about what it would take to make a return next year work.
Until then, Lester finished this short season just strong enough down the stretch to suggest the Cubs might not be ready for their final countdown with Lester and the core just yet, either.
“I feel great,” said the longtime October ace (2.51 in 26 postseason games).
He just needs a game to pitch Saturday.
“That would be awesome for us,” said Jason Heyward, who signed with the Cubs a year after Lester, just ahead of the 2016 championship. “To get Jonny out there to top it off, show his leadership, lead by example, that’s something I’m looking forward to have happen.
“But we’ve got to take care of business [Friday] first.”