The Cleveland Indians may not have had Rajai Davis last season when they faced Jon Lester in late August, but they probably wish they did.
Formerly division rivals, Davis and Lester have a lengthy history against playing against each other. Depending on how much you believe in coincidence and circumstance, there’s a decent chance Davis was in Lester’s head for the better part of two years. Davis does not have a stolen base against Lester, though he does have 14 hits, three doubles, and three triples in 46 at-bats against him. But we are not here to talk about that.
Jon Lester has an historically bad pickoff move and Rajai Davis is very fast. Those are two important facts to know about their relationship. Back in April of 2015, Grantland (long may they rest) dug deep into Lester’s aversion to pickoff attempts, including the last time he even tried to pickoff a runner at first. At the time, he had gone 66-straight starts without doing so.
That last pickoff attempt they were discussing came on April 30, 2013 against the Toronto Blue Jays with, you guessed it, Rajai Davis at first base.
After hitting a single in the fifth inning, Davis had Lester’s full attention — forcing him to throw two pitches to first base before ever even thinking about home plate. Lester would throw over again once more before forcing Jose Bautista to pop up. In the next at-bat, facing Edwin Encarnarcion, Lester again threw to first. And again, as Grantland noted, it was a weak throw, at best.
Lester then went on to throw three-straight balls and eventually a two-run home run that gave the Jays a considerable lead.
From there, the pickoff drought began. Lester would not bother trying to throw over to first until almost exactly two years later against the Cincinnati Reds. It didn’t go well.
Lester went another four more months without a single pickoff attempt. It, too, went poorly.
Rajai Davis has always been a great base stealer, and that hasn’t changed with age. At 36 years old, Davis swiped 43 bases for the Tribe, leading the American League, despite only playing in 134 games. This was his highest stolen base total since he stole 45 in 2013 with the Blue Jays and the fourth time in his 10-year career that he has stolen at least 40 bases.
Unless Terry Francona decides to turn away from the formula he has used all season long, Davis will likely be the Tribe’s leadoff batter in Game 1 of the World Series. He has struggled to get on base to truly be a factor so far in the postseason (1-for-12), but he will never have a bigger chance to make us forget about all that than he will tomorrow.