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:
|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|
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:
|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|
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:
That ball's got a chance ...— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 24, 2017
to land in Lake Michigan. pic.twitter.com/dH0n69Q9td
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:
Just saw it but man... Kyle Schwarber hit a HR 114.2 MPH and projected at 470ft. Wow— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 24, 2017
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.
Schwarber's HR = Heyward's HR + distance from home to 1st + 6 more feet— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 24, 2017
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?
Willson Contreras pop time on the caught stealing of Nunez was 1.89 with an arm strength of 84.8 MPH— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 24, 2017
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.