Jon Lester couldn’t deliver a win for the A’s Tuesday night. (Getty Images)
It was supposed to be a showcase for two of the soon-to-be most coveted starting pitchers on the free agent market — Kansas City’s James Shields and Jon Lester of the A’s.
Instead what transpired in an Wild Card play-in game was a pair of forgettable performances from the starters, but an unforgettable 9-8 win for the Royals in 12 innings.
The world of baseball was treated to an unbelievable showdown, with Kansas City manager Ned Yost making controversial moves throughout (tying a MLB postseason record with seven steals), the Royals coming back from a four runs down in the eighth inning, and, ultimately, KC scoring a pair of runs in final frame to claim a walk-off on Salvador Perez’s RBI single.
(To read all about what transpired in the Royals’ win, click here.)
But what most followers of the Red Sox were concerned about was that starting pitching matchup, particularly the fate of Lester.
Lester’s 7 1/3-inning outing was a roller coaster. The lefty allowed KC to claim an 3-2 lead after three innings, only throwing his much-improved curveball four times while trying to get in the groove with catcher Geovany Soto (whom had never caught Lester).
Perhaps the lefty’s biggest early mistake was pitching to Lorenzo Cain with a runner on second in the third inning. Cain jumped on a first-pitch fastball and rifled it into left to tie the game. He would promptly be driven in by Eric Hosmer’s bloop single.
But, with his regular catcher, Derek Norris, in the game due to a Soto thumb injury, Lester found his stride all the way up until the eighth inning. The A’s starter retired 12 of 13 batters before being taken out with one out in the eighth.
Lester was driven from the game after surrendering another RBI single to Cain, leading to a Hosmer walk on the lefty’s 111th (and final) pitch.
Reliever Luke Gregerson added to Lester’s final line, promptly giving up an RBI single to Billy Butler. The six earned runs boosted the former Red Sox‘ hurler’s postseason ERA from 2.11 to 2.57.
It is no secret that when the Oakland season ended, so would Lester’s stay with the A’s.
“I came out here knowing what I am. I’m a two-month rental and hopefully I can somehow help win a World Series for the Oakland A’s,” he told WEEI.com Friday. “It eases a lot of the questioning of the ‘What are you going to do?’ Everybody knows it’s two months and then probably not sign a contract with the Oakland A’s. We’re going to go our separate ways and go into free agency.”
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As for Shields, his night was cut short in the sixth inning when Yost decided 88 pitches was enough for his ace, pulling him with the Royals leading by one, runners on first and second, and Brandon Moss (who had hit a two-run homer in the first) at-bat.
While Shields didn’t have nearly the postseason pedigree of Lester — coming into the game with a 4.98 in six playoff appearances — he was perceived as the Royals’ workhorse. But instead of letting the righty fight through the jam, Yost brought in rookie fireballer Yordano Ventura, who had thrown 73 pitches two days prior, while having relieved just once all season.
The result was another Moss home run, closing out Shield’s line and paving the way for plenty of criticism for the Royals’ manager (with TBS analyst Pedro Martinez leading the charge):