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Cubs 9, Cardinals 4: A tale of two games

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Jon Lester was really, really bad. And then he was brilliant. And Cubs bats came alive.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Lester’s first inning Saturday evening was a nightmare.

36 pitches. Two home runs, including one that hit Waveland:

I wouldn’t have given Lester much of a chance to finish the second inning, much less did what he and three Cubs relievers accomplished. There was just one more Cardinals hit the rest of the game, an infield single by Paul DeJong in the second, and just three other baserunners after that: a walk, a runner reaching on an error, and the third on a passed ball on a third strike with two out in the ninth. Lester (who threw just 64 pitches from the second through the sixth), Kyle Ryan, Brandon Kintzler and Tyler Chatwood retired 19 straight Cardinals between Kris Bryant’s error in the third and Kolten Wong reaching on the missed third strike in the ninth. They were so dominant that no Cardinal hit the ball out of the infield after the first inning.

Meanwhile, the Cubs offense got going, scoring nine unanswered runs and crushing their division rivals 9-4.

Let’s rewind to just after Lester’s awful top of the first inning, where the Cardinals took that 4-0 lead.

In the bottom of the frame, Kyle Schwarber walked, Bryant doubled down the left-field line and Anthony Rizzo walked to load the bases. Javier Baez hit into a force play and a run scored, and Willson Contreras was up next [VIDEO].

Contreras’ RBI single made it 4-2, and it was clear that the Cubs could hit Jack Flaherty just as well as the Cardinals had hit Lester.

The Cubs cut the lead in half again in the third inning. Rizzo led off with a single and Baez was next [VIDEO].

Here’s some detail on exactly where that ball went and the route Marcell Ozuna took to the ball. Make sure you are listening to this music while you look at this (or watch the video):

All right, now it’s 4-3 and Lester is mowing down Cardinals and it’s only the fourth inning.

With two out in the bottom of the fourth, Schwarber put together this epic at-bat:

... with this as the result [VIDEO].

Flaherty looks like a guy who would have rather been anywhere else on Earth than on that mound at that moment. And Schwarber’s home run was a rope, check out the shallow launch angle and exit velocity:

And just like that, it’s 4-4 in the fourth.

Finally, in the sixth, the Cubs broke the game open. Jason Heyward singled to right and David Bote walked. Albert Almora Jr. singled up the middle to load the bases. Victor Caratini was sent up to hit for Lester, who had completed six innings, something that didn’t seem possible after inning number one.

Victor came through [VIDEO].

Observation: Marcell Ozuna is not a good outfielder. Caratini’s bases-clearing double made it 7-4, but the Cubs were not done scoring in that inning, right, Kyle Schwarber? [VIDEO]

I like Jordan Bastian’s screenshot from Schwarber’s RBI double:

Kyle Ryan, who’s had some rough outings lately, was very good in this one, striking out two of the three hitters he faced and throwing a 1-2-3 seventh on only 11 pitches.

The Cubs completed the scoring in the last of the seventh. Bote walked and Almora singled — both those hitters doing that in consecutive innings, with Bote taking third. Addison Russell’s sacrifice fly made it 9-4 [VIDEO].

Honestly, that fly ball wasn’t really hit deep enough to score most runners from third. But everyone in the Cubs dugout knows Dexter Fowler doesn’t have a great arm, and Fowler’s throw was offline, allowing Bote to score.

Kintzler had a 1-2-3 eighth, and Chatwood, whose last outing was a week prior in that rain-delayed game the previous Saturday in St. Louis, entered to throw the ninth. He struck out the side, or should have, but strike three to Wong got past Contreras for a passed ball, so Chatwood had to face one more hitter, Matt Wieters, who grounded to second to end it. Chatwood threw 11 strikes in 16 pitches, hitting 97 on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter, and he continues to show he’s a valuable guy to have in the bullpen.

Among other things:

And:

All in all, it was a very satisfying evening of baseball at Wrigley Field in front of the largest announced crowd of the season, 41,005.

The Brewers also won Saturday, so the Cubs remain in a virtual tie for first place in the N.L. Central, leading by two percentage points. The Cardinals now trail by 4½ games, the Pirates by six and the Reds are eight games behind.

The Cubs will go for the sweep Sunday night at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Adam Wainwright goes for St. Louis. Game time is 6:05 p.m. CT and once again, the Cubs and Cardinals are featured on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.