OAKLAND — It was real basic. Show us what you’ve got, Jon Lester. Show us your stuff. Show us who you are.
Just show us.
The Oakland A’s didn’t trade power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, didn’t rent Lester for two months to get some nibbler, some cutie pie. They traded for dominance and for power. They traded to go all the way this season.
What did Lester show in his 8-3 win over Kansas City, in his 62/3 innings?
Look at it like this. He threw the ball. Catcher Derek Norris would toss the ball to Lester at the beginning of an inning or during an at-bat, and Lester would catch it standing on the rubber, grab it out of the air almost in anger. Right away, he would stare in for the sign, eyes like lasers. No messing around. No listening to the music of the spheres. No fiddling with the rosin bag.
He would get the sign and shove his right glove in front of his face. Like armor. He would peer over the glove and pick up the target. And he would throw. He would throw the freaking ball. Again and again. The game speeding along to his rhythm. He worked so fast he waited for batters. Catch and throw. Throw and blow the batter away. Just throw the ball. Be merciless.
Afterward, after he had given up nine hits and three runs, I mentioned to him that he works fast. “What’s the thinking behind that?” I asked.
He stared at me. “No thinking,” he almost grunted. “Make it simple. It allows me to not second-guess what I’m doing. I get up there with a thought in my mind and go with it.”
Get the ball. Throw the ball. Get the batter out. Be merciless.
We first saw him after the anthem. He came out for the top of the first after his teammates took the field. He lingered in the dugout. He walked to the mound and took over the mound. It was his mound and it was his game. He took — always takes — his warm-up pitches from the stretch. His most important pitches in a game come from the stretch. He warms up from the stretch. He threw.
His motion is compact. Hardly any movement. No big leg kick. Upper body calm. Still. The ball doesn’t even move fast. Doesn’t seem to. But his heater is 92 mph and he throws a cutter — the sweetest cutter in the business. And it always hits the bad part of the bat. He gets batters out. And then he walks off the mound.
A’s radio announcer Vince Cotroneo said Lester rode into town like John Wayne. Hey, he rode in like the cavalry. Instantly, he is the biggest star on the A’s. He is their only star. Their only big name. If the team were a rock band, it would be Jon Lester and the Swingin’ A’s.
He weakened in the seventh. Not that it mattered. The A’s had scored eight runs and the game was in the bag. But Lester had thrown a bunch of pitches and he had men on base, and manager Bob Melvin took that long walk to the mound with the hook.
Here was Melvin after the game, Melvin with a grin on his face so big you might have thought he was in love. Maybe he was. “I didn’t know if he wanted to come out,” Melvin said. “I was kind of scared to go out there and take him out in the middle of an inning.”