In the spate of stories and love and statistics surrounding Jon Lester’s retirement last week, I saw a story about the 2016 World Series that I’d not heard before, and figured other folks might’ve missed it in the throng.
Everyone knows that Lester was tasked with the unusual, for him, job of coming into the middle of Game 7 and covering those middle innings as a bridge to Aroldis Chapman. What we might not have known was how that whole bullpen thing went for a guy who was not at all used to warming himself up in that manner, especially in a game where it was never quite clear when he was going to be pulled in (something something don’t pull him into a dirty inning when Kyle Hendricks is cruising something something).
Turns out, it’s kinda hard for a lifetime starting pitcher to adjust in a moment like that. So Lester needed some help from Travis Wood (NBCSC):
“When I got down [to the bullpen, to Travis Wood] I was like, ‘Hey, man, listen, you have the reins,'” Lester said on the Cubs Talk Podcast on Wednesday. “‘You have to control what’s going on here because otherwise I’m just going to throw until they put me in the game.'”
Lester began warming up the inning before he came in the game but got too hot too fast. The Cubs sat him back down. By the time the bottom of the fifth inning began to unfold, the Cubs, leading 5-1, had him warm up again.
“When they got me back up, it was like sheer panic,” Lester said. “Like hands on deck, let’s go and it’s rapid fire. I think I got about 25, 30 throws in in about 45 seconds and [Wood is] screaming at me to stop throwing.
“I just look at him like I’m going to rip his neck off. He literally comes and stands in front of me, like stood in front of me to where I couldn’t throw anymore.”
What I wouldn’t give for video of Travis Wood literally standing in front of Jon Lester in the bullpen during Game 7 of the World Series so that Lester wouldn’t tire himself out trying to warm up quickly. I can only imagine the monster energy in Lester’s eyes, and probably a very slight half smile at the corner of Wood’s lip.
Who knows what might’ve happened if Lester had thrown too many pitches in the bullpen that day. Maybe he comes into the 5th inning a little cleaner (recall, he gave up a single and threw a two-run wild pitch), but also maybe he can’t go into 8th inning from there. Or maybe he does go into the 8th inning, but is worn down. And maybe he then allows even more damage before Chapman comes in. And maybe Rajai Davis’s game-tying homer becomes a game-leading homer. And maybe there never is a rain delay or a 10th inning or an end to 108 years. MAYBE! IT COULD HAVE BEEN TRUE HORRORRRRRR!!!
So thank you, Travis Wood, for basically saving the World Series.