Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

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Kerry Wood on Cubs World Series berth: 'More emotional than I thought it was gonna be'

Kerry Wood couldn't resist a 5 Outs joke. 

The iconic Cubs pitcher was a huge part of that 2003 team that famously came just five outs from the World Series before a Game 6 meltdown in the National League Championship Series.

As if to toy with history and laugh in its face, Joe Maddon made the five outs drama last even longer Saturday night.

Kyle Hendricks gave up a one-out single in the eighth inning with the Cubs up five and Maddon came out to make a pitching change. 

Of course, it all turned out just fine. The Cubs went on to win and silence any talk of curses or jinxes and made Steve Bartman and that 2003 just another chapter in history.

"I was good once we got past five outs away," Wood joked with reporters outside the champagne-soaked Cubs clubhouse about 90 minutes after the Cubs clinched a trip to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

"These guys got to experience what we didn't get to experience. We got to play in this game, we just didn't get to celebrate after. Obviously extremely happy for the city. These guys have cemented themselves in history and they're gonna be linked forever.

"It's just great. We got four more to go and it's the right group to go with."

Wood said he "felt" it coming to the game, predicting with his buddies that the Cubs would jump on Clayton Kershaw and score on him early in the game.

The Cubs scored twice in the first, once in the second and then added on with solo tallies in the fourth and fifth innings off Kershaw.

"They don't listen to the history," Wood said. "It doesn't bother them. These guys come out and seem unaffected by the history. So, obviously, we're in a good place we haven't been in a long time. It's a great night.

"It's mind-blowing. Being out there with the crowd, it's such a cool experience."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Wood pitched 12 seasons for the Cubs, but if you include the year he missed for injury (1999) and the time he's worked for the organization since retirement in 2012, he's spent nearly two decades on the North Side of Chicago.

So when he saw the Cubs record their final out and put history in the rearview mirror, Wood was overcome with emotion.

"Surprisingly a bit more than I was expecting," he said. "Just watching the guys do their thing on the field and celebrate. [MLB chief baseball officer] Joe Torre's talking and tryin to do his thing and the guys just split up and spread out and went and saw the fans - which is exactly what they should've done.

"It's a little more emotional than I thought it was gonna be."

Wood said he really started believing it was all possible when Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo woke up with the bats in Game 4 in Los Angeles and the Cubs looked like they got their mojo back.

He also marveled at the team's youth and how poised they were throughout the entire season, especially in the face of adversity.

"I don't think [the weight of history affected them]," Wood said. "That's the key. And not saying it affected us. I don't think it affected us either. We'd go out there and play the game.

"S--t, half these guys weren't born when this stuff was going on. It's great. They got a young group and I think Joe leads them in the right direction and doesn't let them get caught up in the off-the-field stuff. It's just a great combination top to bottom."

Wood threw out the first pitch before the historic Game 6 Saturday night, wearing a Ron Santo jersey.

Three hours later, he was still wearing the jersey, even celebrating with fans:

And he plans right on wearing the No. 10 jersey for at least another week.

"Ronnie didn't get to see this," Wood said of Santo, who died in 2010. "He didn't get to witness this night. Definitely going to wear it all the way through. Hopefully that will let him experience it a little bit with me. 

"I expect big things and I'll see you guys in Cleveland."