clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2017 Cubs victories revisited, May 23: Cubs 4, Giants 1

New, 4 comments

Jon Lester was dominant.

May 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs dropped the first game of a four-game set to the Giants, and then Jon Lester put together one of the best performances in Cubs history on a rainy night.

The Cubs returned to two games over .500 after this win, 23-21. They were in second place in the N.L. Central, 1½ games out of first place.


Just how dominant was Jon Lester in the Cubs’ 4-1 win over the Giants on a soggy Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field?

Pull up a chair, my friends, and I will tell you how you witnessed one of the most dominant pitching performances in Cubs history and perhaps even in major-league history.

Lester threw a complete game, the Cubs’ first of the 2017 season and allowed four hits, didn’t walk anyone and struck out 10. That computes to a Game Score of 93.

Here are all the Cubs games of nine innings (because extra-inning games keep piling up numbers on your Game Score) with a Game Score of 93 or higher in the baseball-reference era (since 1913), before Tuesday night’s gem by Lester:

Results
Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO Pit Str GSc
1 Jake Arrieta 2015-08-30 CHC LAD W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 1 12 116 80 98
2 Jake Arrieta 2014-09-16 CHC CIN W 7-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 1 13 110 75 97
3 Carlos Zambrano 2008-09-14 CHC HOU W 5-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 1 10 110 73 96
4 Kerry Wood 2001-05-25 CHC MIL W 1-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 2 14 114 73 97
5 Kerry Wood 1998-05-06 CHC HOU W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 0 20 122 84 105
6 Frank Castillo 1995-09-25 CHC STL W 7-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 2 13 114 78 96
7 Don Cardwell 1960-05-15 (2) CHC STL W 4-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 1 7 93
8 Bob Rush 1952-05-30 (2) CHC CIN W 11-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 0 10 93
9 Pat Malone 1934-08-18 CHC PHI W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 1 12 94
10 Lon Warneke 1934-04-17 CHC CIN W 6-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 2 13 96
11 Jimmy Lavender 1915-08-31 (1) CHC NYG W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 1 8 94
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/24/2017.

Well, there are some pretty famous games in there — a couple of no-hitters, Kerry Wood’s 20-K game (the latter is the highest nine-inning Game Score in MLB history at 105).

But wait! There’s more!

Lester’s 99-pitch effort was the first complete game thrown by any Cub with fewer than 100 pitches since Carlos Zambrano threw a 98-pitch two-hit shutout, also against the Giants in San Francisco September 25, 2009.

Need more? I’ve got one better for you. The last Cubs pitcher to throw a CG with fewer than 100 pitches at Wrigley Field before Tuesday night was ... ready for this? Sergio Mitre, who threw a five-hit, 99-pitch shutout against the Marlins June 14, 2005. (Now there’s a bar bet you could win.)

Wait, I still have more, and it gets even better. Here are all the nine-inning games in major-league history (at least those with a verified pitch count) where the pitcher threw a complete game, had a Game Score of 93 or higher and 99 or fewer pitches:

Results
Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO Pit Str GSc
1 Chris Archer 2015-08-20 TBR HOU W 1-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 1 11 98 65 95
2 Carlos Carrasco 2014-09-17 CLE HOU W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 1 12 98 74 94
3 Philip Humber 2012-04-21 CHW SEA W 4-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 0 9 96 67 96
4 Chris Carpenter 2009-09-07 STL MIL W 3-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 2 10 99 64 93
5 James Shields 2008-05-09 TBR LAA W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 0 8 92 61 93
6 Chris Carpenter 2005-06-14 STL TOR W 7-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 1 10 95 68 94
7 Roy Halladay 2005-05-29 TOR MIN W 4-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 0 10 99 72 93
8 Curt Schilling 2001-04-10 ARI LAD W 2-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 0 10 93 73 93
9 David Cone 1999-07-18 NYY MON W 6-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 0 10 88 68 97
10 Kevin Brown 1997-06-10 FLA SFG W 9-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 0 7 98 67 94
11 Kenny Rogers 1994-07-28 TEX CAL W 4-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 0 8 98 64 95
12 Jose Rijo 1993-09-25 CIN COL W 6-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 0 8 97 65 93
13 Darryl Kile 1993-09-08 HOU NYM W 7-1 CG, W 9.0 0 1 0 1 9 83 59 93
14 Terry Mulholland 1991-09-18 PHI MON W 1-0 SHO, W 9.0 2 0 0 0 10 98 76 93
15 Trevor Wilson 1990-06-13 SFG SDP W 6-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 0 9 99 70 94
16 Don Robinson 1988-08-10 SFG HOU W 5-0 SHO, W 9.0 1 0 0 0 8 94 65 93
17 Jim Bunning 1964-06-21 (1) PHI NYM W 6-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 0 10 89 68 97
18 Sandy Koufax 1964-06-04 LAD PHI W 3-0 SHO, W 9.0 0 0 0 1 12 97 68 98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/24/2017.

More no-hitters, four perfect games... well, you get the idea. You’ll note no Cubs pitchers are on that list. Thus you could make a legitimate argument that this game, along with the Wood 20-K game, are the most dominant games by any Cubs pitcher in history.

Lester faced the minimum number of hitters in every inning except the fifth, when doubles by Buster Posey (just down the left-field line out of the reach of Kris Bryant) and Brandon Crawford produced the Giants’ only run of the game. The only Giant to reach base in any other inning was Justin Ruggiano, who singled to left and who was promptly erased on a double play.

Meanwhile, the Cubs were pounding home runs off Johnny Cueto, who allowed a famous home run to Javier Baez in the previous inning he’d pitched against the Cubs before Tuesday, in last year’s division series.

Kyle Schwarber began the fun with this moonshot:

Since the completion of the new bleacher structure in 2015, very few baseballs have been hit over it and onto Sheffield Avenue, maybe three or four total. Here’s how far that one went:

It’s the longest home run by any Cub not named “Bryant” in the Statcast era. That gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Jason Heyward was the next Cub to leave the yard [VIDEO].

Not as magnificent as Schwarber’s, Heyward’s basket shot counted for exactly as many runs.

Anthony Rizzo completed the home-run barrage off Cueto, as well as the Cubs’ scoring, with a two-run blast in the fourth [VIDEO].

After the Giants made it 4-1 in the fifth, just one man reached base for either team: Bryant, who walked with one out in the sixth, went to second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout, but was stranded.

That led to one more fascinating number for the evening: two hours, five minutes, the time of game (after a one-hour, five-minute rain delay). That made it the fastest game by time at Wrigley Field since May 9, 2012, a 2:05, 1-0 win over the Braves. The next previous game at Wrigley that was 2:05 or quicker was in 2007.

Curious thing about that game length: Since Tuesday’s game was on ESPN (as well as local channels), MLB’s national-TV inning break of 2:25 was in effect, instead of the standard inning break of 2:05. That’s an extra 20 seconds per half inning, or 340 seconds, which is five minutes, 40 seconds. Without national TV, that game could have been completed in under two hours, which hasn’t been done at Wrigley since 2002.

One more excellent Cubs play to note from this win: After the Giants scored their run in the fifth, Crawford had advanced to third on a single by Eduardo Nunez with one out. Willson Contreras took care of Nunez with this strong throw [VIDEO].

Just how strong was that throw?

When the gates opened at Wrigley Field Tuesday, I would not have given much of a chance for this game to even be played. It was raining moderately hard at that point, and forecasts and radars did not look good. Even though it was still raining a little after 6 (the original game time), the Cubs had the tarp removed and got water off the warning track, which was pretty soggy. A 7 p.m. game start was announced, and though it took until 7:10 for the actual first pitch to be thrown, they did begin, even though it was still raining at the time. Rain fell lightly through most of the first three innings, and the announced attendance of 32,905 was the smallest, by far, of 2017. Nowhere near that many were actually in the ballpark. I’d say about half that number were in Wrigley to see one of the best pitching performances in Cubs history.

This was exactly what the Cubs needed, with the bullpen taxed and starting pitching not being one of the strong points of this team so far this year. Not only was this the Cubs’ first complete game of the year, it was the first time any Cubs starter had even pitched in the eighth or ninth inning at all. And Lester originally wasn’t slated to start this game — this would have ordinarily been Kyle Hendricks’ turn, but with the rainout Saturday, the rotation was adjusted to start Lester on his normal four days’ rest, which turned out to be an excellent decision by Joe Maddon.

Lester loves pitching at Wrigley Field. He has a 1.80 ERA there in six starts this year, and over his last 16 regular-season starts at the Friendly Confines he’s 12-0 with a 1.55 ERA.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are beginning to get on a roll. The win makes them 5-2 on the homestand, and they have hit 15 home runs in those seven games.

It appears the rain might finally take a break Wednesday evening, with just a 30 percent chance of light showers. Kyle Hendricks gets the ball for the Cubs, and Matt Moore will start for the Giants.