LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers danced on the basepaths behind him, feigned bunts in front of him, but, in the middle of it all, Jon Lester dismissed the distraction and promptly stared down the Dodgers to pitch the Cubs to within one win of their first World Series berth since
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers danced on the basepaths behind him, feigned bunts in front of him, but, in the middle of it all, Jon Lester dismissed the distraction and promptly stared down the Dodgers to pitch the Cubs to within one win of their first World Series berth since 1945.
Lester bought time for the offense to pile on in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series by limiting Los Angeles to one run over seven innings. It was the foundation for an 8-4 victory that notched Lester his eighth career postseason win and gave Chicago some breathing room with another Clayton Kershaw start looming.
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"That's what he does. He's a big-game pitcher," said Lester's catcher, David Ross. "He never disappoints. This guy is a true competitor in every sense of the word."
After being held to one run by Lester in the opening game of this NLCS, the Dodgers telegraphed their altered game plan before a pitch was ever thrown at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. They wanted to disrupt the veteran lefty. Specifically, they intended to expose Lester's troubles throwing to first base.
Speaking Thursday afternoon, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described it as an attempt to "get in his psyche a little bit."
What the Dodgers perhaps left out of their calculation was how Lester would take those tactics and turn them into added fuel.
Lester's intensity was enhanced from the get-go. He issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Kiké Hernandez, who then tried to toy with the lefty by pushing the limits of his lead on first base. Hernandez never did take off for second, but he did draw Lester's attention.
When Joc Pederson, an inning later, tried to bunt his way on, Lester disregarded the Cubs' defensive plan and called off the other swarming defenders. He fielded the ball himself, short-hopped it to first, but retired Pederson to end the inning.
• Cut4: Lester threw a bounce-pass to first base
"I think they were trying to rattle him a little bit," Ross said. "We dealt with that all year, so it's nothing new. I want them to bunt. I want them to give us free outs. That's fine. Every out matters in the playoffs. Every pitch matters. When you give one away, that's one you're not getting back."
And as if to remind the Dodgers that he had no intentions of being embarrassed on this stage, Lester glared into their dugout before heading back to his own. He did the same -- this time in the direction of home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez -- in the third after notching an inning-ending strikeout of Corey Seager two pitches after he thought he had it.
"I just get fired up getting outs," Lester said afterward. "I play this game with emotion, and if it rubs people the wrong way, oh well."
The Dodgers never did bunt for a hit against Lester, and they parlayed a stolen base into a run just once. More notably, they spent most of the night watching Lester toy with them.
Lester threw 74 percent fastballs, just as he had in his Game 1 outing, but he executed his game plan with relative ease. Against him, the Dodgers went hitless in five chances with runners in scoring position.
"Do what you do best," manager Joe Maddon said. "What he does best is he throws pitches very well, up to 94 miles an hour where he wants to, and then he has a great cutter and a curveball. So why would I want him to get mentally infiltrated with trying to hold runners if he's not comfortable? He was glad he went out and pitched tonight like he did."
In three starts this postseason, Lester has now limited his opponents to two runs over 21 innings. Thursday's victory improved his career record in Game 5 starts to 3-0. The previous two, also on the road, gave his team a 3-2 lead in a series they'd eventually close out in six games.
The Cubs now have a chance to do the same.
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.