Hammer time? Jon Lester is the guy to drop it on the Nats in Game 2
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WASHINGTON — It only makes sense that Jon Lester, the Cubs’ Mr. Old School, would identify with coach Norman Dale of “Hoosiers” fame.
But this is why you want a guy like Lester on the mound for Game 2 Saturday against the Nationals. The Nats, down 1-0 in this best-of-five National League Division Series after a bitter 3-0 defeat, are going to be fighting for their very playoff lives. Think the Game 1 crowd at Nationals Park was dialed up to 10? The Game 2 noise will make the Washington Monument shudder and shake Capitol Hill to its roots.
What’s a 33-year-old, $155 million lefty to do? Try this: not be bothered one little bit.
“You’ve got different atmospheres,” he said. “Stadiums are packed. They are loud. It’s fun. Once you step on that rubber, it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches, and you still have to execute a pitch. And you still have to have good at-bats and catch the ball and throw it and run and do all that stuff.”
As sure as a basketball rim is 10 feet off the ground and a free-throw line 15 feet away, Lester will take the mound looking to drop the hammer on the Nats.
The Cubs stole all the momentum by winning on a night when Stephen Strasburg was spectacular, but Kyle Hendricks was quietly even more brilliant. And — let’s just be honest about it — the Cubs can all but end the thing if Lester, last year’s postseason No. 1, simply does his job.
“You guys saw tonight, the crowd was into it, and [there was] a lot of energy early on,” he said. “I’m sure tomorrow’s most likely going to be the exact same. So I’m excited. I’m excited to get out there. But I’m not too worried about the other stuff.”
What, worry? These Cubs? Apparently not. Apparently never. They won clutch games a year ago in San Francisco, Los Angeles and — holy mama — Cleveland, and now they’re at it again.
It never ceases to fascinate me how we all can size up a series before it starts, but then it starts and completely takes on a life of its own. The Nats — an edge in starting pitching? Please. It’s Lester vs. Gio Gonzalez, not Max Scherzer. And speaking of Scherzer, who’s slated for Game 3: Is he really healthy enough to pitch?
There was some debate heading into Game 1 about who would get the ball in Game 5 if the series went the distance. Would it be Hendricks again or Lester, who’d be on full rest? That debate certainly ought to be moot now after Hendricks’ gem.
But it almost doesn’t even matter because Lester still gets to rear back in Game 2 and — how was it put earlier? — drop a big ol’ hammer.
“That sounds really good,” catcher Willson Contreras said, “especially [after] winning the first game. Kyle did really good today, but it’s already over. We’re thinking about [Saturday], about Lester. He’s a pitcher with experience in the postseason and World Series, and I know he’ll have a conviction that he’ll do well.”
Experienced? Oh, yeah. Lester just so happens to rank second among active major-leaguers in postseason starts (19) and innings (133‰) and is first in strikeouts (117). By the way, who ranks first in starts and innings? That would be Cubs ace reliever John Lackey, but we can talk about that another time.
Nats manager Dusty Baker promised good things from his team in Game 2.
“We just couldn’t muster up too much offense tonight,” he said. “We’ll be better tomorrow.”
It’s not like they could be any worse. But it’s a long way from “better” to beating Lester. Hammer time? Sure could be. It’s not like we haven’t seen it before.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.