CHICAGO — The fans here rode the emotional roller coaster together. At chilly Wrigley Field on Sunday night, with the Cubs facing elimination in the World Series, they roared at every break and fell eerily silent with every setback.
The Cubs have not won a championship since 1908. And with their reactions, those who gathered here for Game 5 betrayed their frayed nerves, a condition developed over decades.
On the pitcher’s mound, however, Cubs lefthander Jon Lester created his very own island. Here, he shielded himself from the ups and downs, just as he’s done so many times before. By the end of his stint, Lester had done all he could to spare the Cubs from elimination against the Indians.
In his final start of the season, Lester allowed two runs in six innings in a 3-2 victory that narrowed the Cubs’ series deficit to 3-2. He struck out five and walked none, flashing the postseason pedigree that the Cubs hoped to import when they signed him to a six-year, $155-million deal before the 2015 season.
The Cubs’ massive investment loomed large Sunday night, when Lester revealed few nerves. His five World Series starts are tied with teammate John Lackey for the most among active players. On the biggest stage, that experience came through.
“Knowing kind of the circumstances and what was going on, I had to be perfect from pitch one,” Lester said. “I had to execute, couldn’t make mistakes.”
In Game 1, Lester allowed three runs and was outdueled by Indians ace Corey Kluber. But in Game 5, Lester wasn’t quite as charitable.
After striking out the side in the first inning, he allowed a second-inning solo homer by Jose Ramirez, putting the Cubs in a 1-0 hole. “The homer I gave up was a really good pitch that the guy put a really good swing on,” Lester said.
With the Cubs ahead 3-1 thanks to a three-run rally in the fourth, Lester allowed Francisco Lindor’s two-out RBI single in the sixth. He knocked in Rajai Davis, who had singled and stolen second, taking advantage of Lester’s fear of throwing to first base. But Lindor was caught stealing second on a strong throw by catcher David Ross and slick tag by Javier Baez.
Before the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked about benching Baez, who entered play 2-for-17 with six strikeouts in the World Series.
Said Maddon: “With Jon pitching, we do certain things defensively, and Javy needs to be on the field for that.”
On a night that he described as a grind, Lester needed every advantage. “I’m just fortunate enough to get through that [lineup] a couple of times with just a couple of runs and still keep our team in the lead there,” he said.