There's going to be a lot of attention focused on Jon Lester—and his glove—heading into his Game 5 start.
The first two games of the 2013 World Series have been headlined by leather.
The poor throws in the late innings of Game 2 by the Boston Red Sox evened the Series one day after a litany of errors and misplays by the St. Louis Cardinals left them trailing after Game 1—which, of course, also featured the headline-grabbing controversy surrounding the alleged foreign substance on Jon Lester's glove.
And so as the scene shifts to St. Louis for Games 3, 4 and 5, there's still plenty of chatter and speculation surrounding Lester's leather and just what exactly was on it.
You've no doubt seen, heard and read all about this by now. It's been made into a story so big that it might only be rivaled in size by the very "giant booger" that Lester called the green blotchy substance on the top portion of his glove's thumb.
There's been all sorts of back-and-forth on this topic, but Lester denied any subterfuge and more or less waved off the issue off when he addressed it with the media the day after his Game 1 gem, saying, via Alex Speier of WEEI.com:
I know that not once have I cheated. The picture does look bad. But it's rosin. That's all I can really comment on with it. It's rosin. And my next start, in Game 5, I’ll go out there and do the exact same thing and hopefully have the same outcome of the game.
Speaking of Monday's Game 5, which is sure to be preceded by all of the scrutiny and nonstop reminders we can handle, how will all of that impact Lester's performance?
For one thing, the umpires will probably be keeping a close eye on the left-hander's glove. That's a given. If that was Cardinals prospect Tyler Melling's intent when he dropped the tweet heard 'round the World Series, mission accomplished.
Let's also recognize that this story blew up so much and so quickly because Lester pitched so well, hurling 7.2 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Does Melling's tweet even happen if Lester pitches less effectively?
But as fellow MLB Lead Writer Zach Rymer pointed out in the wake of Game 1, there's no evidence that Lester was getting any sort of help or boost or extra movement from the substance, whatever it was.
Not that Lester would have needed it anyway. Performing well in October is nothing new for him. In case you hadn't noticed, the 29-year-old tends to do pretty darn well in the postseason, as he's proved throughout his career. Entering this Fall Classic, Lester had allowed only six earned runs on 16 hits in 19.3 innings this month.
In his playoff career, Lester is sporting a 2.22 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 in 69 innings over 12 outings.
If nothing else, that shows Lester is capable of excelling against the best players in the game during the most intense, dramatic, high-leverage games he's ever pitched in. To think that this "non-troversy," as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports dubbed it, is going to suddenly make Lester lose focus or distract him from his goal of winning a World Series game is just a tad silly.
Besides, the Red Sox are dealing with a more pressing distraction. That would be the status of Clay Buchholz, who is in line to start Sunday's Game 4—at least for now.
The right-hander, who was Boston's best pitcher early this year but lost three months to injury, is once again dealing with health issues that have him at well below 100 percent. His velocity has been down since he returned in September, per Brooks Baseball, and his 5.40 ERA through three playoff starts indicates he's not close to the pitcher he was through the season's first few months, when he had a 1.71 ERA prior to hitting the disabled list.
Now he's battling shoulder soreness, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, and he may have "hit the wall" as manager John Farrell suggested.
"I've got maybe one start left," Buchholz said. "I haven't been 100 percent in a long time now."
(Ironically enough, Buchholz had his very own alleged ball-doctoring incident back in May.)
Whether or not the Red Sox can count on Buchholz in Game 4—or will have to turn instead to left-hander Felix Doubront, who was relegated to long-man status at the outset of October—is a real and potentially more damaging problem than whether Lester will be bothered by Glovegate.
Fact is, Lester will pitch Game 5 and be ready to go. As for Buchholz and his ability to handle Game 4? That's a legitimate concern for Boston.
That doesn't mean there won't be plenty of scrutiny on Lester's leather the next time he toes the rubber, particularly because he'll be on the road in St. Louis. He's not going to be able to ignore all of the hubbub between now and when he steps on the mound Monday. But it's not like that will affect how he pitches or cause him to fall apart, either.
Will Jon Lester's Game 5 performance be impacted by the extra scrutiny?
While Lester is a fiery, competitive, heart-on-his-sleever, he's also a major leaguer pitching in what potentially could be a clinching or do-or-die World Series game. One imagines he'll have his priorities straight.
And it's not like Lester hasn't endured years and years of questions and criticisms—the chicken-and-beer fallout from Boston's 2011 collapse comes to mind—while playing in one of the most intense media markets for the past eight years. Plus, he's faced his fair share of life obstacles, too, having beaten lymphoma back in 2006.
Some extra scrutiny based on a little Gak on his glove isn't going to be the most attention or the biggest challenge Lester has ever faced.
The toughest part about all of this for Lester is the timing. On Monday, he will be making his final start of 2013 on baseball's biggest stage with a championship hanging in the balance. It'll be up to Lester to perform under that spotlight like he's done so many times before. Only this time it might be a little brighter than normal in Game 5.
Until then, though, expect leather to remain a fashionable topic this fall.