Lester comes up aces at Cubs take 2 of 3 from Dodgers
On a recent Cubs homestand, pitcher Jon Lester threatened to go back to the mound for one more inning and make manager Joe Maddon decide between pitchers.
Wednesday at Wrigley Field, Lester went to the mound in the seventh inning having thrown 106 pitches.
Maddon wasn't about to argue, not with a depleted bullpen and the need for his ace to go long after Tuesday's day-night doubleheader.
Lester was all aces as he worked 7 innings in the Cubs' impressive 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving them the series two games to one.
The veteran lefty might not have been at his sharpest, but he gutted it out and let his defense do the rest, as Cubs fielders turned in one exquisite play after another.
"Yeah, obviously I know with (Tuesday) and where we've been at with our usage and the extra-inning game and all that stuff," said Lester, who improved to 9-2 and lowered his ERA from 2.28 to 2.10 as he makes a serious run at being in the All-Star Game. "At that point, what's 15-20 more pitches?
"I finally won one (battle), so it will probably be another 15 starts before I win another one."
If there's an old school, Lester no doubt would be the principal. Maddon explained how it all came down as his ace lobbied to go back out there.
"He knew what he had to do; he said it himself," said Maddon, whose team is 42-29. "He came off the field after 6. I didn't say anything to him. But I had already said to Hick (pitching coach Jim Hickey), 'We need to get 1 more out of him.' I was going to go talk to him, but he came to me, and he says, 'I got to go 1 more.'"
Lester fell behind in counts early but righted himself. He got help from the defense all over the field. In the third, right fielder Jason Heyward teamed with catcher Willson Contreras to throw out Chris Taylor trying to score from third on Justin Turner's flyball to medium depth.
Albert Almora Jr. made a diving catch on Yasiel Puig's liner in the seventh. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber kept a runner from advancing. In the eighth, Javier Baez shined after moving from shortstop to second base. He snagged Turner's liner and then dived to second base and tagged the bag with his glove to double off Enrique Hernandez, who led off the inning with a double against reliever Anthony Bass.
Maddon described Baez's play as that of a free safety in football. Baez knows no other way.
"No," he said. "I do my best. I got to play hard. If I don't play hard, that's when injuries come. I'm just trying to stay healthy the whole year."
Heyward said he understood why the Dodgers would run, but that seemed quite all right with him.
"You got to go," he said of the runner at third base. "I feel like you have to send them there when they ran on me. I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber if they haven't yet. You've got to earn that respect. You've got to earn that sense of caution from the third-base coach.
"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen. I think the biggest thing is that we want the ball. We all want to be ready. We all want to play. Hopefully teams will keep taking notice."
The Cubs used four single-run innings to score. The loudest hit was Kyle Schwarber's booming home run to center field in the fourth against Ross Stripling. It was Schwarber's 14th of the season, and it tied him with Baez for the team lead.
"To be able to win two out of three after losing the first game in the manner that we did (blowing a ninth-inning lead), I give our guys a lot of credit," Maddon said.
Scouting report Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park
NBC Sports Chicago Thursday and Sunday; WGN Friday; ABC 7 Saturday
The Cubs' Kyle Hendricks (5-6) vs. Matt Harvey (1-5) Thursday at 6:10 p.m.; Jose Quintana (6-5) vs. Luis Castillo (4-8) Friday at 6:10 p.m.; TBD vs. Anthony DeSclafani (2-1) Saturday at 3:10 p.m.; TBD vs. Sal Romano (4-7) Sunday at 12:10 p.m.
At a glance:
This will be the Cubs' third and final trip into Cincinnati this season. The Reds won't make their first foray into Chicago until July 6. The Cubs are 3-2 against the Reds. Under former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman, the Reds have played better overall of late even though they are buried in last place in the NL Central. On-base machine Joey Votto leads the NL in OBP at .428, and he entered Wednesday in the top 10 in batting average and second in walks. The Reds were second from the bottom in ERA (4.89) while the Cubs were first (3.17). The Cubs and Reds entered the day 1-2 in OBP.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Monday-Thursday
-- Bruce Miles