Lester at a loss: First-inning woes put Cubs in World Series hole

CLEVELAND -- Jon Lester wouldn’t hear of it. He wouldn't accept the idea that the Chicago Cubs lost Game 1 of the World Series to the Cleveland Indians 6-0 on Tuesday because of missed offensive opportunities late in the contest. He knows when the game got away from the visitors.

“It comes down to the first inning,” Lester said afterward. “The first inning was tonight’s game.”

After getting two quick outs, Lester gave up a ground ball single to Francisco Lindor, who promptly stole second base. No big deal. Lester had been here before, with the best batting average against with runners in scoring position in the second half. Coming into the game, the opposition was just 7-for-68 since the All-Star break in such instances.

The Cubs lefty didn’t get pounded, but he suddenly lost his control and walked the next two batters after starting 3-0 on each of them.

“Didn’t have the best command coming out to start the game,” Lester said. “Playoff games, that’s all they need. Two walks can’t happen. Put the ball in play. Make them earn it. Didn’t do it.”

With the bases loaded, Lester had no margin for error -- or any bad luck. But Jose Ramirez reached on a swinging bunt toward third base and brought home the first run of the game. Then Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch, further proving Lester’s command wasn’t World Series-caliber.

“It was pulled in there pretty well,” catcher David Ross said of the cutter that hit Guyer.

That put the Indians up 2-0, which led to Lester’s declaration that the game was lost right there.

“It makes the manager’s job a lot easier,” Lester said of having a lead. “It makes your job a lot easier. When you give a guy like [Corey] Kluber, locked in from pitch one, two runs in the first, it makes his job a lot easier.”

The final score came eight innings later, so there was plenty of time to come back, but the trend in the playoffs this season has been to score early and bring in your best bullpen arms to secure a victory. The Indians have been masters at that, while the Cubs have contributed to another trend: Since the beginning of the League Championship Series and including Tuesday’s World Series Game 1, the team that has scored first is 12-0. That’s more than a random, small sample.

“I know the feeling on the other side,” Lester said. “You’re able to go about things differently. You’re able to attack differently. You get out of there [in the first inning] with nothing, and maybe things are different. The bullpens, the way they’re set up nowadays, all you have to do is get through six.”

Lester knew exactly what Indians manager Terry Francona would do: shorten the game by bringing in the most dominant reliever of the postseason. The Cubs had some chances against lefty Andrew Miller, but it's asking a lot for an offense to score against the ALCS MVP. They came up short in this one but might have tired him out for Game 2. That’s a small victory.

In the end, the Indians are the one team that can match the Cubs pitch for pitch; that’s what they’ve done so far in the playoffs. But with a weaker Miller and a No. 2 starter (Trevor Bauer) coming off an injury to pitch Wednesday, maybe there were enough positives to take away from the Game 1 loss.

Lester said he’s looking forward to another chance at the Indians in Game 5, as long as someone -- perhaps Jake Arrieta in Game 2 -- picks him up. There was no mincing words: Lester wasn’t good enough on Tuesday, and he saw his career World Series ERA rise from 0.43 to 1.35. Even his catcher couldn't hide the facts.

“Their guy made better pitches than our guy,” Ross said.