Jon Lester will make his return to the Coliseum on Friday night, pitching in Oakland for the first time since his two-month stint with the A’s in the second half of 2014.
You wonder what kind of memories it will stir for Lester, who wasn’t here long enough to grow roots or establish any sentimental attachment to the East Bay.
The emotions for A’s fans will be easier to decipher. Certainly the lefty did nothing to agitate the fan base. He was solid in 11 regular season starts after being acquired from Boston at the 2014 trade deadline, going 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA.
But fair or not, in the minds of A’s fans, Lester’s stint in green and gold will always be linked to the second-half slide in ’14. The A’s held the best record in the majors (66-41) at the time Oakland swung a July 31 blockbuster, trading Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick to the Red Sox for Lester, outfielder Jonny Gomes and cash.
From that point on, the A’s wobbled to a 22-33 finish and needed to win game 162 just to squeeze into the AL Wild Card Game. Mid-summer dreams of a World Series ended abruptly, as the A’s lost an epic 9-8 thriller to the Kansas City Royals in that Wild Card matchup at Kauffman Stadium.
The A’s felt supremely confident with Lester starting that game. He went 7 1/3 innings and left with Oakland leading 7-4, but the A’s bullpen faltered and Lester wound up charged with six runs. He was supposed to be the final piece that would propel the A’s to a deep October run. Instead, that trade came to symbolize the A’s downward slide that season, as Cespedes’ departure seemed to drain the A’s of their collective confidence as an offense.
Lester signed a six-year $155 million deal with the Cubs before the 2015 season, and he’ll take the ball Friday night as Chicago arrives for a weekend series at the Coliseum with the major leagues’ best record at 66-41. Lester, with an 11-4 record and 2.95 ERA, has been a big part of their success so far, as the hype builds that this could finally be the year the Cubbies claim their first World Series crown since 1908.
It stands to reason that Lester won’t get the warmest greeting from A’s fans, though again, he did little to incur their wrath. Figure that any boos will be balanced out by some hearty cheers, as there figures to be lots of blue-clad Cubs fans filling the Coliseum seats all weekend.
Lester’s time in Oakland may have been brief, but it will forever stir debate and controversy in the hearts and minds of A’s fans.
A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters before Thursday’s 8-6 win over the Angels that reliever Sean Doolittle (shoulder strain) will throw off the mound this weekend for the first time since joining the disabled list June 30.
Jharel Cotton, one of three pitchers the A’s received from the Dodgers for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick, won his debut with Triple-A Nashville on Thursday, throwing six innings and holding Colorado Springs to one run with five strikeouts and one walk.