CHICAGO -- Following two straight losses to the Indians to put the Cubs' season on the brink, Wrigley Field did not need much of an excuse to come alive on Sunday, its 41,711 constituents aching to grow loud. Jon Lester gave them an early reason anyway, opening World Series Game 5 like this: Strike three to Rajai Davis on an 84-mph changeup. Strike three to Jason Kipnis on an 89-mph cutter. Strike three to Francisco Lindor on a 77-mph curve.
Lester didn't lose much steam from there, adding to his dictionary-thick October resume with six effective innings in the Cubs' 3-2 win over the Indians, which staved off elimination and sent the series back to Cleveland.
Certainly not at this point in his career, with Lester making his 19th postseason start -- tied for ninth-most in Major League history, and second among active players behind current teammate John Lackey. Most of those outings were good ones, too, including a World Series clincher with Boston in 2007.
Of pitchers with at least as many October starts as him -- a group that includes Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Whitey Ford -- Lester's 2.62 ERA ranks third. Only Ford and Curt Schilling were better.
So it came as little surprise to the Cubs when Lester struck out the side in the first, then retired seven in a row following Jose Ramirez's solo homer in the second. Though Lester cracked for two runs, the second of them coming on a Lindor RBI single in the sixth inning, he never permitted the Indians any extended rallies.
Lester struck out five and walked none. Perhaps most important, he guided the Cubs to a point in the game where manager Joe Maddon could turn, after a brief Carl Edwards Jr. cameo, almost immediately to closer Aroldis Chapman for the last eight outs.
"You're just trying not to allow baserunners," Lester said. "You're trying not to allow the big swing. You're staying on the edges."
This is not necessarily the end of Lester's postseason, with Game 6 -- and, if the Cubs accomplish what they want to, Game 7 -- on the horizon. When asked if he might be available out of the bullpen beginning Tuesday in Cleveland, Lester shrugged and said, 'Hey, whatever we've got to do. This time of year, there's no barriers.'"
There are, of course, plenty of obstacles still remaining for the Cubs, who trail this best-of-seven series, 3-2. But Lester's strong outing at least gave them a chance.
"You're just grinding from pitch one," Lester said. "You're trying to make the perfect pitch every time, and at the same time still be aggressive. So, yeah, it's a grind. That's what makes the postseason fun."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.