David Ross, Anthony Rizzo reflect on what Jon Lester has meant to them
Two days after what might have been his final start at Wrigley Field, Jon Lester was still the talk around the Cubs.
The team is obviously still focused on the playoff race, but both David Ross and Anthony Rizzo took time Friday to reflect on what Lester has meant to them both individually and for this Cubs franchise.
Lester admitted after Wednesday night’s start that it was on his mind that it was his last guaranteed appearance at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform. Nobody knows how the Wild-Card series will play out and Lester has an option in his contract for 2021, but nothing is certain.
Lester was sitting at only 62 pitches through 5 innings but Ross decided to weigh the big picture and team goals as he made a difficult decision to pull the veteran left-hander from the game at that point.
“It’s tough,” Ross said. “I knew what the evening entailed. I knew going into that game what was at stake and how that was on his mind for sure. I had a couple guys walk into my office — it was on a lot of people’s minds. I try to do what’s right. I mean, my job is to do what’s right for the group and win a ballgame.
“I would’ve liked to let him throw a complete game shutout, to be honest with you. I was rooting hard for him. It was probably the hardest pull that I’ve had. My stomach was in knots knowing that I had to go tell him he wasn’t going back out after the 5th.”
Part of the reason the decision was so tough for Ross was because he understood Wednesday night was more than just one outing for Lester and he wanted to do right by his friend and the team at the same time.
Lester’s bond with Ross as a pitcher-catcher battery helped bring Ross to Chicago before the 2015 season.
“I know what this guy’s meant to this franchise,” Ross said. “I know that there’s nobody that’s done more for me in my career than that human being and what he means to me and my family and the things he’s done for me as far as my career. I wouldn’t even be sitting in this seat without the guy. Yeah, it’s a tough day for sure. But I have a job to do and I have a lot of responsibilities outside of Jon.”
Rizzo credited Lester’s decision to sign with the Cubs in free agency as a major turning point not only for the franchise but for the development of the face of the franchise.
“Yeah, definitely. That’s one of my closest friends in the game,” Rizzo said. “He’s done everything for me and has taught me and has helped me develop as a person, most importantly, and then as a teammate and as a leader. His generosity, all the gifts he’s bought us, everything he’s done off the field for us, the parties he’s thrown for us, the team gatherings.
“And then on the field, how professional he is. You have 10, 12-plus years of 30-plus starts, he takes the ball every fifth day. He came here — I remember his press conference like it was yesterday. One of the main things he said — ‘I’m coming here to win.’ And that’s coming to an  loss team in 2014 and we turn it around and win 97 and win division after division, NLCS, NLCS, World Series.
“He came here to win and that’s what he’s done. He’s brought a winning mentality, he’s a winning player. And I think right next to Starlin Castro, Jon Lester is the most important baseball player in my life for my career, personally.”
While the future is unknown for Lester beyond 2020, Ross chose to remain optimistic about seeing the big lefty in a Cubs uniform again after next month.
“I don’t see it as his last start here for me,” Ross said. “I see him coming back. That’s my hope. I think he’s got a lot more to prove, I think he’s got a lot more to do in this game. I know 200 wins is a goal.
“I look through a different lens. I understand the uncertainty that he’s going through but balancing what’s right for the club and one of my best friends in baseball was a tough night for me.”