Here is a link to my Sunday column about Jon Lester’s first win for the A’s. The full text runs below:
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.”
“Were you really scared?” I asked.
“No, I was just kidding.” Melvin blushed. “You let that guy go. It’s his game to an extent. But where we were, a couple guys on base and after the long inning, it was time for me.”
“What did you say to him?”
“I said, ‘Nice going, big fella.’”
“He is a big fella.”
FYI: The big fella is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. That’s one big fella.
Here is Lester on getting taken out in the middle of an inning: “It aggravates me more when a manager has to come get me just because I feel I didn’t get my guys back in the dugout. I’ve never liked that feeling of walking off the mound in the middle of a game. I’d rather be able to shake the manager’s hand in the dugout. To walk off to the ovation was great. It kind of makes you feel welcome.”
Lester was businesslike after the game. He called the A’s his “new family.” If he doesn’t stay past this season, maybe he’s a foster child. He was as serious after the game as during the game. Intensity wafts off his body. Melvin, who seems fascinated by Lester, said, “If you don’t know him, you think that’s the way he is all the time. I’ve seen a couple of smiles out of him.”
Melvin was happy to sum up Lester’s importance to the A’s, a team on the make: “When you can stick in a true No. 1 — and we’re talking about probably three or four guys in the game that pitch No. 1 like he does — that embraces it, that wants it, that wants the pressure, wants to be that guy, that’s awfully nice. It’s quite the luxury to have.”
Quite the luxury. But let’s keep it simple. Jon Lester gets the ball. Jon Lester throws.
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