Jon Lester just retired, and the KC Royals won’t miss him

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Longtime star pitcher Jon Lester announced his retirement Wednesday. The 38-year-old lefthander spent 16 seasons in the major leagues and pitched for three World Series champions. The KC Royals, however, won’t miss him.

Lester was terrific whenever he played the Royals, compiling a superb record of 10-3 with a 2.18 ERA against them during his career.

And he was a thorn in Kansas City’s side from the very beginning.

He made his eighth rookie season 2006 start July 18 against the Boys in Blue. The 2006 Kansas City team was one of the worst in club history, finishing in last place in the American League Central with a record of 62-100. Even as a rookie, Lester feasted on this dismal squad, tossing eight innings of shutout, one-hit ball to earn his fifth career win in his first-ever appearance against the Royals.

And then, just over two months shy of two years later, he no-hit Kansas City May 19, 2008. Throwing 130 pitches in all, Lester struck out nine and walked only two on the night. He joined Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan (1973) as the only two pitchers to ever no-hit KC.

Lester continued his dominance over the Royals when he had three wins against them in 2014 alone. He helped break a Kansas City eight-game winning streak when, less than a month after joining Oakland in a trade deadline transaction that saw him and future Royal Jonny Gomes go from Boston to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes, he struck out nine over six innings in his new team’s 11-3 Aug. 12 victory.

He so often had the Royals’ number that after the game Kansas City’s skipper told the Associated Press (as published in USA Today):

"“I’d rather face Cespedes four times in a game than face Lester one game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s just me. That’s not taking anything away from Cespedes. He can beat you with one swing of the bat.”"

But despite the fear Lester may have instilled in them, one can argue Kansas City had the last 2014 laugh against him in that season’s American League Wild Card game.

The KC Royals famously gained their sweet revenge against Jon Lester.

Every Kansas City fan knows about that 2014 Wild Card game against Oakland, the contest that ended a painfully long postseason drought and propelled the Royals to their first World Series appearance since 1985.

Lester faced off against Kansas City’s James Shields that late September game, and it was back-and-forth between the two clubs.

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The A’s struck first when Brandon Moss tagged Shields for a two-out, two-run homer in the first. The Royals answered right back in the bottom half of the inning when Billy Butler singled in Nori Aoki. In the third, Lorenzo Cain doubled home Mike Moustakas to tie the game and Eric Hosmer followed with a single to score Cain for a 3-2 lead.

Kansas City gave up the lead in the sixth when Moss hit another home run off Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera allowed singles to Derek Norris and Coco Crisp to make the score 7-3 in favor of Oakland.

While things had been quiet for Lester since the third inning, the Royals came storming back when they knocked him around in the eighth—Alcides Escobar singled and stole a base, went to third on Aoki’s groundout, and Cain singled him in. After Cain stole second and Hosmer walked, Lester was replaced by Luke Gregerson. Gregerson uncorked a wild pitch that scored Hosmer to get KC within a run at 7-6.

Lester’s final line in this crucial contest? Six runs allowed on eight hits in 7.1 innings, which was nothing like he’d pitched against the Royals that season—he beat them all three times he faced them, giving up only six runs in 20.2 innings.

The Royals, of course, eventually won the Wild Card on Salvador Perez’s single in the 12th:

To Lester’s credit, he did have an excellent 2014 season with a 16-11 record, 2.46 ERA, 220 strikeouts, and a 1.102 WHIP.

And the year after Kansas City won the 2015 World Series title, Lester clinched his third with the Cubs. He won the third game of that Fall Classic and pitched three innings in Game 7.

After 2014, Lester didn’t see the Royals again until last season when, as a Cardinal, he had a no-decision the first time he faced them but got his 197th career win against them Aug. 14 in Kansas City. Lester retired with a career record of 200-117, a 3.66 ERA, and 2,488 strikeouts.

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Jon Lester has retired after 16 seasons. While the Royals certainly won’t miss him, he will be fondly remembered in Kansas City for the 2014 Wild Card game.