After 71 years of waiting, Cubs look rusty in World Series return

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with Lonnie Chisenhall #8 and Brandon Guyer #6 after hitting a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with Lonnie Chisenhall #8 and Brandon Guyer #6 after hitting a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND – He is the one guy that figured to take such an electric atmosphere in stride.

After all Jon Lester did participate in a pair of World Series in Boston – a high-pressure baseball city – and managed to come out a winner every time. In his three World Series games with the Red Sox he allowed just one run in 21 innings with his team capturing all three games.

Yet as the franchise was appearing in their first World Series in 71 years, Lester mirrored the team in looking a bit rusty in their first contest against the Indians in the Fall Classic. The NLCS MVP had a rough start just like the Cubs offense and neither were able to recover in a 6-0 defeat to a Cleveland team that looked like a group of World Series veterans.

They capitalized on early Lester mistakes, had their starter dominate for six innings before the bullpen wiggled out of a couple of jams to take a 1-0 series lead. A Cubs team very new to this stage certainly showed a bit of fright on a forgettable night.

“I’m not upset whatsoever,” said manager Joe Maddon of his team’s first effort of the World Series. “They pitched really well tonight. Jonny wasn’t really on top of his game but he did give us a chance to win.”

Lester would disagree. The pitcher was hard on himself after a first inning in which he took control and then lost it like never before in the playoffs.

After getting the first two batters out, Lester surrenders a base hit and then a steal to Francisco Lindor. A pair of walks – as many as he had in the entire playoffs to that point – led to an infield hit by Jose Ramirez that brought home the first run. Even more uncharacteristically Lester then hit Brandon Guyer to bring home another run before finally getting out of the inning.

“Just didn’t have the best command to start the game. Playoff games, that’s all they need,” said Lester, who would recover and allow just one more run in his 5 2/3 inning effort where he struck out seven batters. “Two walks can’t happen, especially after two outs quick out.”

The Cubs’ offense wasn’t so lucky against Corey Kluber who made the lineup look like they were in their first World Series game. In three innings the Indians’ number one starter fanned a MLB-record eight batters while surrendering just one hit in that span. The Cubs didn’t do much against him before he was lifted after Ben Zobrist singled in the seventh – just one of four hits he allowed while striking out nine batters.

“He was throwing his pitches where he wanted to. It felt like there wasn’t anything over the middle of the plate to really hit or do any damage of it,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who was 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts in Game 1. “Sometimes you’ve got to tip you cap.”

In the seventh and eighth inning the Cubs didn’t do that with star reliever Andrew Miller – who was not scored upon in six previous playoff appearances. In both innings the Cubs got five runners on base against the reliever, including bases loaded with nobody out in the seventh. While they drove Miller’s pitch count to a playoff-high 46 in just two innings, they would strand every runner on base without every getting anyone home.

“We got beat by a pretty good ballclub today,” said Addison Russell, who was hitless with three strikeouts on Tuesday. “On paper they beat us. It leaves a sour taste in our mouth but tomorrow is a new day.”

One where they hope their play won’t look like they haven’t been there in 71 years.