We’ve seen it a million times and have heard about it even more. Teams are going to try to run on Jon Lester, or they’re at least going to take big leads and try to get in the pitcher’s head. Yes, the same pitcher who’s beaten cancer and won World Series titles in Boston and Chicago. The guy who’s seen more runners thrown out this year than any other in baseball.
Sure, Lester isn’t a guy who throws to bases, that much has been true since well before his time in Chicago. But the funny thing about hackneyed narratives is that they tend to be perpetuated in the face of contrary experience, particularly when you’ve got a grit-tastic skipper in the other dugout. And when it comes to those sorts, Mike Matheny is as abrasive as they come. Dude even had his team practicing leadoffs and such prior to Lester’s last start in St. Louis.
We’ve seen the dancing around off the bag and the suicide leads for the last couple of years, yet Lester just keeps getting better at controlling the running game. Sure, Willson Contreras helps a little in that regard. But you know that even as tired and misleading as it is, and as much as he’s totally comfortable with his own shortcomings, Lester has been waiting to stick the notion that he can’t throw right up every naysayer’s backside.
So when Tommy Pham walked with two outs in the 5th inning and then set up far enough from first base to shoot a free throw, the stage was set.
“He’s almost a third of the way to second base,” you can hear Dan McLaughlin say on the Cardinals’ broadcast. “I think every guy should do this. Whether you have speed or not”
“Absolutely,” Tim McCarver agreed. “No question.”
“That’s an unbelievable lead that he has,” McLaughlin marveled. *Lester fakes throw* “See, and if he throws over to where Tommy Pham is, he just takes off to second base.”
“He could. That’s a trick, that step off and hold the ball,” McCarver explained. “He’s not gonna throw to first base.”
*Lester steps and throws, Pham is out by roughly a body length*
“But he did.”
“That’s alright, it’s worth it.”
perfectly written, perfectly timed, perfectly executed. the best comedy sketch of the year pic.twitter.com/9YWuuPd4bR
— Double Birds (@2xBirds) June 3, 2017
Yes, Mr. McCarver, free outs in a close game on the road are most definitely worth it. Unintentional humor is the best kind. I’m reasonably sure the folks at Second City couldn’t have drawn this up any better. Gotta love it.
I mean, this was fantastic on so many levels, not the least of which was knowing that Matheny’s ass was probably redder than Craig Counsell’s after it was sunburned on the afternoon of that rainout last month. Lester, on the other hand, was hyped as a mug, though you’d never know it from his demeanor. Only that coy half-grin and a hint of pimp-swag as he sauntered off the mound betrayed his enjoyment of the play.
I’m interested to see whether this was like the death blossom button in The Last Starfighter, a weapon of last resort that can be deployed only once. If so, it was worth it. See what I did there? If, however, Lester has regained the ability to pick runners off, it’ll further aid his ability to control runners. Smaller leads mean less chance to beat throws and even fewer attempts.
War Bear goes boom
Heading into Saturday’s game, Kyle Schwarber had only two hits in his last 37 at-bats (.054). Both had been home runs. So bad had his struggles gotten that Joe Maddon actually turned to forgotten man Albert Almora to pinch-hit for Schwarber Friday afternoon in a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Of course, the Cards changed pitchers and Jon Jay took the at-bat, grounding into a double play to end the inning and effectively burn two bench bats.
I couldn’t shut up about that move and was not very happy about it until the game ended in regulation without requiring the Cubs to use pitchers in the pinch. More than just what I perceived to be a tactical miscalculation by Maddon, however, I saw it as a sign that the manager had lost confidence in his War Bear. Or, perhaps more accurately, that the skipper was sticking very closely to his platoon strategy.
There was no need to make a change with a righty on the mound and two outs, so Maddon stuck with his sluggish slugger despite a pair of fruitless at-bats. And Matheny stuck with the NL ERA leader despite a pair of singles and a hit batter that had just loaded the bases. The Cardinals manager surely reasoned that Schwarber’s recent results would continue and that Mike Leake was due for a good outcome.
Well, Matheny was right about Schwarber’s results. Dude only hits home runs.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 3, 2017
Flat. Out. Rekt.
Following his traditional call — It’s got a chance…gone! — Pat Hughes admitted that the raucous crowd in the bleachers prevented him from seeing exactly where the ball had gone. Ron Coomer let him know that it had gone about 10 rows up into the left-center bleachers, where everyone had been on their feet since well before the ball landed.
You hate to assign too much importance to one hit or one game, but I’d be lying if I told you that this one didn’t feel damn good. The last two have felt really cathartic, truth be told. To come from behind twice, against the Cardinals no less, after that godawful road trip to California carries more significance than two straight wins have any right to.
More than one person has gotten on me about Schwarber’s spot on the roster and I get it. Well, I get the reasoned argument that a stint in AAA could reboot his confidence. The folks spewing all kinds of vitriolic stuff can go pound sand. The fact of the matter is that this is the team’s call and if they believe this is something Schwarber can work through in Chicago, you can be damn sure that’s what’ll happen.
Theo Epstein has gone on record as saying no one is above a demotion, though, so the door is still open. In order to avoid walking through it, Schwarber needs to see to it that he does more than hit only home runs every few games. Or just that he hits enough homers to bring the average up a bit.
Hot Stove Cool Music
I’m not a big concert guy, but every time I attend a live show I end up wondering why I don’t go to more. Such was the case during and after Hot Stove Cool Music, the fundraising show that began as the brainchild of Peter Gammons and has morphed into two benefits each year.
This one wasn’t quite as crazy as the Boston show that saw World Series trophies crowd-surfing, but it was a ton of fun and there was great energy in the place. I can’t even properly describe it, other than to say that I enjoyed the hell out of myself despite not recognizing more of the artists or songs. But that’s when you know it was awesome.
I highly encourage your attendance next year.
More news and notes
- Albert Pujols joined the 600 home run club
- Dude is probably the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation
- There’s no probably about it
Pujols admired the hell out of 600 too pic.twitter.com/EWM81BXomf
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) June 4, 2017
- Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes the retirement of David Ross — who made an appearance at HSCM — has impacted the Cubs more than they will admit.
- The Marlins could once again look to sell off a ton of talent, including Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and JT Realmuto