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2016 Cubs Victories Revisited, September 2: Cubs 2, Giants 1

Jon Lester finished what he started, and came close to a no-hitter.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Cubs continued to get outstanding starting pitching and Jon Lester flirted with a no-hitter on a gorgeous Friday afternoon.

The Cubs’ record improved to 87-47, 40 games over .500, they led the N.L. Central by 16½ games, and reduced their division-clinching magic number to 13.

You can ask, but you will rarely get any better regular-season baseball day than the Cubs had on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The weather was absolutely spectacular, in the manner that early-September days often are: unlimited sunshine, gentle breezes, temperatures in the low 70s.

And the baseball was just about as wonderful as the weather. Jon Lester took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and wound up with his second complete game of the year, a three-hit, 102-pitch effort, and the Cubs won their fifth in a row, 2-1 over the Giants.

Lester issued a walk to Buster Posey with two out in the first inning, then set down 18 in a row, helped out by some strong defense. That included this grab he made himself on a line drive back up the middle by Eduardo Nunez with one out in the second:

And this diving catch by Kris Bryant on a liner hit by Brandon Crawford leading off the fifth.

Those are the kinds of plays you often see in no-hitters, and just about that time I saw this tweet:

On we went. Dexter Fowler made this slick sliding grab of Kelby Tomlinson’s sinking line drive with one out in the sixth:

Lester recorded the first two outs easily in the seventh, and then Hunter Pence homered to ruin the no-no and the shutout and making it close at 2-1.

Crawford followed with a hustle double, but Bryant again made a nice grab of a line drive to end the inning. Trevor Brown doubled with two out in the eighth off Lester, but was stranded.

The Cubs, who had taken a 2-0 lead on an RBI double by David Ross and RBI single by Fowler in the third inning, got a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the eighth, followed by an intentional walk to Ben Zobrist. Joe Maddon sent Miguel Montero to pinch-hit for Matt Szczur, an odd move until you realized that Bruce Bochy wasn’t going to let the right-handed Sergio Romo pitch to Montero under any circumstances, so lefthander Josh Osich entered and Maddon countered with Addison Russell, likely the matchup Joe wanted.

Russell walked on four pitches, bringing Jason Heyward to the plate. Heyward’s been hitting the ball much better lately, though he had previously struck out twice in this game. Truthfully, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to bat Jorge Soler for him, but I think Joe wanted to trust Heyward with this situation, bases loaded, one out.

Heyward hit the ball hard again — right at Joe Panik, who doubled Russell off first to end the inning:

Justin Grimm had been warming up in the eighth, but no Cubs reliever was up in the bullpen as Lester came back to start the ninth. He got Angel Pagan and Posey on routine ground balls to second base, then missed on a very close 3-2 pitch to Pence and walked him. Grimm was up again, ready to enter, but Joe left Lester in the game. A Lester fastball ran right across the outside corner for the called strike three that ended the game, on his 102nd pitch:

What a masterful performance on a day when the somewhat-overworked Cubs bullpen really needed it. Lester was inducing weak contact for most of the early innings, then got into a bit of trouble in the middle innings on Pence’s home run and a few other balls that were hit hard, but right at Cubs fielders. He must have saved something in reserve for the eighth and ninth, because there was the weak contact again (on the ninth-inning ground balls) and the fastball saved for the final pitch of the game.

A couple more notes about Lester’s gem:

The Cubs moved to 40 games over .500 at 87-47 and they lead the division by 16 games. The magic number to clinch the N.L. Central dropped to 14, pending the Cardinals’ game tonight against the Reds in Cincinnati. The magic number to clinch the best record in the N.L. is now 20, pending the Nationals’ game tonight in New York against the Mets.

Want more? Of course you do. This was the Cubs’ 50th win at Wrigley Field this year. Only 17 teams in Cubs history have won 50 or more home games; the last time was in 2008 (55-26), which is the club record for wins in a season at Wrigley. The franchise record for home wins is 58, set in 1910. They’ve won eight straight home games dating back to the sweep of the Brewers a couple of weeks ago.

The Cubs have 28 games remaining and need to win only 13 of them for a 100-win season, which would be the team’s first since 1935.

And, the win at last put the Cubs’ record in one-run games over .500 at 20-19. They’ve won the last three games by one run after losing two straight one-run affairs last weekend in Los Angeles.

Cubs walk watch: five walks in this one brings the season total to 547, or 4.08 per game. Pace: 661.

So the Cubs have won the two games they sort of figured to in this series, defeating old friend Jeff Samardzija and rookie Albert Suarez. It will not be as easy Saturday and Sunday, and those should be good tests for this team as they go up against pitchers they might face in a postseason series.