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Game 2 starter Jon Lester dead-set on giving Cubs whatever they need

LOS ANGELES — If anything, Jon Lester was underworked when then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona decided to give him the ball for Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.

Lester was all of 23 years old, without a postseason start to his name or an appearance of any sort in 11 days. Yet, with his team leading three games to none over the Rockies, Francona went with his young lefty rather than put
Game 1 starter Josh Beckett — the “best pitcher on the planet,” Lester recalled Saturday — back out there on short rest.

“Hey, kid, don’t screw it up,” Beckett told him. “Don’t screw up our bullpen too much.”

So Lester did just about the only thing he could think to do under the circumstances: not screw it up. Instead, he three-hit the Rockies in 5‰ scoreless innings to pick up a title-clinching victory.

What, Jon Lester worried? That's not how this guy rolls. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A decade later, Lester is pretty dead-set on what he wants to give the Cubs as they defend their World Series title: whatever they need. After the team lost 5-2 to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, what they need is for the leader of their staff to deliver a series-tying “W.”

“He’s our ace, man. He’s our guy,” Kyle Hendricks said. “I have the utmost confidence I could ever have in someone.”

Jose Quintana, who started Game 1 and didn’t factor in the decision, took it a step further: “How confident in [Lester]? More than 100 percent. We expect to tie the series tomorrow.”

Lester will start only four days after he went 55 pitches in relief in the divisional round against the Nationals.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I mean, it’s kind of just work in between [starts] — just got to do it in the game as opposed to on the side. So I don’t think it’s a problem. This time of year, you have to adjust and figure it out.”

That’s the position all the Cubs’ starters either find themselves in already or likely will soon enough. Routines? How boring. Quintana started Saturday less than 48 hours after appearing in relief in Game 5 against the Nats. Jake Arrieta will oppose Alex Wood in Game 4 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, bumped back a spot in the rotation behind Hendricks.

Only Hendricks, who’ll start Game 3 opposite Yu Darvish on five days of rest, is operating according to the norm thus far.“This time of the year,” manager Joe Maddon said, “these kind of battle-tested guys under these circumstances, they look for these moments. So I have all the faith in the world. And you have to trust your guys.”

There’s no one Maddon trusts like he does Lester, who’ll be going for his 10th postseason victory. That would tie him with the Astros’ Justin Verlander — who beat the Yankees on Saturday — for the most playoff wins among active pitchers.

“Jonny said he feels great,” Maddon said, “so Jonny’s pitching.”

Going for L.A. will be fellow lefty Rich Hill, a former Cubs draft pick who pitched for them from 2005 to ’08. Hill, a 12-game winner each of the last two seasons, shut out the Cubs for six innings in the Dodgers’ Game 3 victory in last year’s NLCS.

“Any time you get the opportunity to play and compete against the best, that’s something that everybody who’s a competitor wants to do,” Hill said. “You want to challenge yourself against the best, and they’re the defending champions — and that’s the club that we wanted to play and the team that we want to beat to get to the next step, which is the World Series.”

Somebody’s going to have to drag Lester — in his ninth postseason — off the mound before he’s going to let that happen.

“You don’t really worry about how tired you are,” he said. “You just try to play baseball.”

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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