NEW YORK -- Jon Lester's $155 million contract is largely about nights such as Saturday. He has been one of the premiere big-money postseason starters in recent history.
On Saturday, though, he was the second-best starter on the Citi Field mound in the Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Mets in Game 1 of the NLCS.
While the Mets' Matt Harvey dominated, Lester fought without his best stuff and tried to keep his team in the game. He was basically missing a weapon -- his cutter -- that he abandoned because he couldn't find it.
Even without his best stuff, Lester took the mound in the bottom of the fifth with the score even at one. It was then that Lester felt he lost the game for Chicago.
Just after the Cubs had gotten to Harvey -- thanks mostly to a misplay in center field by a frigid-looking Juan Lagares -- Lester gave the lead right back on a lefty-lefty matchup with Curtis Granderson. Granderson won the battle with an RBI single. That left Lester to beat himself up after the loss.
Here is Lester with a combination of punches aimed directly at himself:
"That is the game right there. I have to do a better job of getting our guys back in the dugout."
"The fifth inning, that to me was the turning point. I let these guys down. It was my fault. We had the momentum."
"That is unacceptable."
Lester entered Saturday with a 2.66 ERA in 15 postseason appearances. That is nearly a run better than his career regular-season ERA of 3.55. After his 6 2/3 innings of four-run ball Saturday night, his playoff ERA rose to 2.85.
"His cutter wasn't as sharp as it normally is," Lester's catcher, David Ross, said. "I thought he pitched well for what he had today, to be honest with you. His velo was good. His fastball was all right. It probably wasn't his best outing."
It was not. Lester stood in the middle of a pretty upbeat Cubs clubhouse, having taken the loss to heart, and punished himself for the defeat.
"I once again put our team behind the eight-ball against a really good pitcher," Lester said.