Rich Hill was removed from Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday after just four innings, and Jon Lester has no idea why.
Hill, who allowed one run on three hits, struck out seven and threw just 60 pitches – 42 for strikes. The Dodgers used eight more pitchers on the night and lost, 7-6, to the Astros as the series moves back to Houston for Game 3 on Friday.
It used to be that opposing teams would try to knock a starting pitcher out of a game, but now? Now teams seem hellbent on getting their own starters out as soon as possible and making baseball a bullpen battle.
Lester isn’t a fan.
“I hate it. I absolutely hate it,” the Cubs lefty said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You pay your starting pitchers to be starting pitchers. You pay your studs to be studs. I remember growing up and watching these big-time guys – Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, (John) Smoltz. ‘Here’s the ball. You guys go get it. We’re going to live or die by you.’ Obviously if that falters early, you need to make a decision. That’s different. But if they are cruising, (leave them in).”
The Dodgers didn’t do that. They used seven pitchers over the final seven innings and allowed six runs in the process.
“You’re stretching your bullpen to get 15 outs,” Lester said. “That’s a lot of outs from your bullpen. That’s a lot of mixing and matching. That’s a lot of high-stress pitches on those guys. Now you’re bringing in Kenley Jansen to get six outs, which I’m fine with. I don’t mind using your closer for six outs. But for me, you go back to the Yankee days where you had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, these guys going (for seven or eight innings) and then you give the ball to Mo (Mariano Rivera). That’s the blueprint and that’s what you want every time.
“But I just feel like when you ask your bullpen to get nine, 12, 15 outs, there’s a lot of things that can happen,” Lester continued, “and you went from a 3-1 game to a 7-6 game. I feel like that’s what happens when you do that. It puts a lot of stress on your bullpen. They have the off day today. I get it on that side of it. But for me, it’s just not baseball. Baseball is your starters go six, seven, eight and then you mix and match and do your things that you need to do from that point forward. That’s my opinion on it.”
Lester, a three-time World Series champion, also addressed the Cubs’ 2017 season. Chicago returned to the NLCS for the third straight year but was unable to get back to the World Series.
“I don’t know. I think every year is unique. Every year is different,” Lester said. “We started out slow and kind of sluggish, and then we played obviously a lot better in the second half and ended up winning the division. I know everybody kind of wants to look at bits and pieces of the year and break down the year, but I guess I look at it as we won the division and we got to the NLCS. We didn’t get to our ultimate goal of playing for another World Series, but at the end of the day, sometimes you got to admit that you just get beat. But by no means do I feel like as a group we had a bad year. I’ll take the division and giving ourselves a chance to go to the World Series every year. I just think we ran out of steam there at the end, and the Dodgers were just better than us in the NLCS.”
A wealth of experience has shaped Lester’s perspective on the matter.
“I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum where you’re the last team standing and the first to go home as far as you’re playing for nothing in September and you’ve already got your bag packed,” the 33-year-old said. “As soon as that last game hits, you’re heading out the door. It always ends when you don’t want it to. Even when you win, it’s almost like you go through this roller-coaster ride and the season’s over, and it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, now what? We celebrated for two or three straight days, and now what do we do? I guess we go back to our real lives of being moms and dads and regular people.’ This year kind of hit us like a ton of bricks, a little right hand across the chin there at the last day. But once that game was over, Joe (Maddon) said a lot of great words.”
Those words were valuable for Lester, but they were probably more valuable for his younger teammates.
“I think it’s easier for me to handle just because I’ve been around,” Lester said. “These young guys, they need that reassurance. Joe did a great job of, as soon as that game was over, bringing everybody together and putting it in perspective. Three NLCSs in a row, a World Series mixed in there – I’ll take those odds one-out-of-three in baseball. That’ll get you in the Hall of Fame any day. I loved what he said at the end, and I think that kind of put in perspective for these young guys – and even for myself – what we have accomplished. But at the end of the day, it still stings when you’re at home and two other teams are playing.”