Remember what I wrote in the preview to this game about Jon Lester and John Lackey?
Lackey and Lester were teammates in Boston for three full seasons (2010, 2011, 2013) and part of a fourth (2014) before both were traded last year, in fact, on the same day, July 31. Will Lester's former Red Sox teammate be the one to allow his first big-league hit?
In Lester's 67th major-league at-bat, that's exactly what happened. Lester singled off Lackey. Literally "off" him, in fact -- the ball caromed off Lackey's foot toward shortstop, where Jhonny Peralta couldn't get to it in time to throw Lester out at first base, and at last, Lester had his first major-league hit. He got a standing ovation, a mention on the right-field video board, and best of all, the hit loaded the bases for Addison Russell.
Unfortunately, Russell was called out on strikes to end the rally and the Cubs couldn't get any other runners home Monday night, going 1-for-6 with RISP and losing to the Cardinals 6-0. It was the Cardinals' fifth straight win over the Cubs this year.
Beyond the single -- which was well hit and might have gone cleanly up the middle, scoring a run (as Jorge Soler was on second base after a two-out double) -- Lester nearly made more history Monday night. He threw six no-hit innings, with the only baserunner in that time coming on a one-out walk in the first inning. Matt Carpenter took a very close pitch for ball four, and Lester clearly wasn't happy with the call:
Lester has a few words with home plate ump Ted Barrett before exiting after 1st inning. #Cubs
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 7, 2015
But after that, Lester retired 18 straight Cardinals. He'd thrown 24 pitches in the first inning, but then threw only 50 from innings two through six. The Cubs couldn't do anything against Lackey, either; they did get runners to scoring position in the fifth and sixth but could not score, and the sixth-inning chance seemed promising. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant singled, and Rizzo took third with nobody out. After Miguel Montero struck out, Starlin Castro hit a ball that seemed destined for right field.
Kolten Wong made a great diving stop and turned a double play. You know, as if he does these kinds of things a dozen times a day, while placing an order for coffee. Ugh.
Lester struck out Carpenter to start the seventh, and then Peralta hit a ball down the third-base line, which Bryant was guarding to prevent doubles, a typical defense in the late innings of a close game. The ball went off Bryant's glove as he tried to backhand it for the first St. Louis hit.
The next batter, Jason Heyward, hit a potential double-play ball to Bryant. By this time it had started to rain lightly, and Bryant might not have had a good grip on the ball as he tried to start that DP. His bad throw allowed Heyward to reach base and Peralta to take third.
Well, you know what comes next even if you didn't see the game. Yadier Molina hit a fly ball to right to score the only run the Cardinals would neeed, and Wong singled in a second run. The error made both runs off Lester unearned, but that doesn't really matter in the end, as they count toward the score just the same. It was by far Lester's best outing as a Cub and over his last few starts he's finally started to look like the pitcher the Cubs thought they were paying $155 million for. That's a good thing.
It's not going to help if the Cubs can't score runs, though. They had another runner on in the seventh when Mike Baxter batted for Lester, but Baxter hit into another inning-ending double play.
After that inning rain started to fall harder and it was coming down quite intensely during the top of the eighth, when Justin Grimm retired the Cardinals in order, two of them on fly balls to the outfield. Lots of credit to Soler and Dexter Fowler -- that can't be easy, looking up into rain pelting you in the face while you're trying to catch a fly ball.
Rain delayed the game for an hour and 16 minutes, which can't have pleased anyone given the 12:20 p.m. CT start for Tuesday's first game. When the game resumed, the Cubs dredged up last year's version of Edwin Jackson, who threw a dreadful 30-pitch ninth inning in which he gave up four runs, putting the game out of reach. It was Jackson's worst outing of the year and his ERA jumped from 2.17 to 3.30. In the end they probably should have just called it a night after it started raining, as the result wasn't likely to change and all that was accomplished was sending everyone home, or to their hotel, an hour or so later than they otherwise would have.
The teams will play a doubleheader Tuesday, a split-admission affair with the first game starting at 12:20 p.m. CT and the second at 7:05 p.m. CT. In the day game, Jake Arrieta faces Tim Cooney; in the nightcap, Dallas Beeler (who is being recalled under the doubleheader 26th-man rule) will start against Tyler Lyons. The Game 1 preview will post at 11 a.m. CT.
The Cubs are getting outstanding starting pitching lately. Perhaps Tuesday, they will remember how to hit.