The return of Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester to Wrigley Field lived up to the hype. A tribute video (for Schwarber, I’m guessing one for Lester comes today, when he’s not pitching), a gift of a scoreboard number, multiple standing ovations, a home run by Schwarber... everything you might have wished for or expected.
Here’s the pregame gift to Schwarber:
After a pregame video tribute, Kyle Schwarber is presented with a “12” panel. pic.twitter.com/KxkxiQCOHo— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 17, 2021
And on top of all that, the Cubs won the ballgame 7-3, thanks in part to an outstanding defensive play in a critical situation by Nico Hoerner.
Let’s unpack this game from the beginning.
The Cubs played the intro songs they’d played for years for both players, a nice gesture. It might not have been 40,000 in attendance, but the 11,144 at Wrigley Monday evening paid heartfelt tribute to these two men who helped the Cubs to a World Series championship in 2016. When they’re both retired from the game, they’ll always be Cubs World Series champions, welcome at reunions and the ballpark forever.
Kris Bryant had a little fun with Schwarber in left field:
Kyle Schwarber on Kris Bryant leaving him some candy in left: "I definitely ate some Twix out there in the field."— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) May 18, 2021
The Cubs wasted no time getting to Lester. Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant singled and Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead [VIDEO].
That worked, but after the game Rizzo said he wished...
On the subject of facing Lester, Rizzo said thinking about it now, he should have asked Ross if he could lead off so he could hit the first pitch as hard as he could off Lester.— Maddie Lee (@maddie_m_lee) May 17, 2021
The Cubs made it 3-0 in the second inning. Matt Duffy led off with a single and Jason Heyward hit a Lester offering into the bleachers [VIDEO].
Adbert Alzolay had gotten through the first two innings easily, but in the third with two out, Trea Turner homered to make it a 3-1 game.
The Cubs got that run right back in the bottom of the inning courtesy of Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
The Nats closed the gap in the fourth thanks to a two-run homer by... Schwarber [VIDEO].
Now it’s 3-2 and many Cubs fans got to see what they wanted, a homer from the prodigal son.
Kyle Schwarber hinted that he was happy to homer against a team that non-tendered him (because who wouldn't be?). When asked to unpack that a bit, Schwarber said: "It's not a hate thing or anything like that. It's more just going out there and proving something to yourself."— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) May 18, 2021
Alzolay was lifted for a pinch-hitter after five innings. He’d thrown just 63 pitches, but I understand the change at that point, David Ross was looking for more offense, especially with Ian Happ in scoring position with nobody out. Unfortunately, pinch-hitter David Bote struck out.
Rex Brothers and Ryan Tepera got through the sixth with no runs scoring and the Cubs then extended the lead in the bottom of the inning, thanks to their third home run of the evening, this one from Javier Báez [VIDEO].
That baseball went a long way to the opposite field:
After Javy’s homer, Dave Martinez came out to remove Lester, and yet another ovation for Jon followed:
Lester spoke over the weekend about missing out on that final walk back to the dugout last year at Wrigley with fans in the stands. They gave him another standing ovation, but he didn't look like he wanted to enjoy it after this performance tonight.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) May 18, 2021
A look at the three homers Lester surrendered today.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 18, 2021
Heyward went oppo on a low-away 4-seamer. Contreras pulled an up-and-in cutter. Javy went oppo on cutter over outer edge. pic.twitter.com/uqPjN6Qkwj
Tepera continued in the seventh, retiring the Nats 1-2-3, and then the Cubs added yet another run. Hoerner led off with a single, stole second and went to third on a throwing error. One out later, pinch-hitter Eric Sogard made it 6-3 [VIDEO].
Andrew Chafin, who’s been very good in the setup role this year, entered to throw the eighth. He allowed a walk and single with one out, then got the second out on a fly to right before issuing a third walk, loading the bases. After a mound meeting, Chafin was left in to face yet another former Cub, Starlin Castro, with the tying run now on base. On a ground ball that appeared headed to right field, Nico Hoerner made what might be the defensive play of the year so far [VIDEO].
On the video clip, you can hear Boog say it saved a run — that might have actually saved two runs, and it ended the inning with no runs scoring and the Cubs maintaining their three-run lead, a very important defensive stop.
While Craig Kimbrel was warming up for a possible save opportunity, the Cubs took the game out of save-op range with an additional run in the eighth. Rizzo led off with a double and two outs later, Heyward had his third RBI of the game [VIDEO].
Heyward is starting to hit, just a bit. Over his last five games: 5-for-19 with two walks, two doubles and a home run. If he can get going, that’s one more offensive weapon in the lineup.
Tommy Nance had joined Kimbrel in the pen, so when the game was no longer in a save situation, Nance entered to make his major-league debut. I expected to be ho-hum about him, given that he’s a 30-year-old righthander signed out of indy ball in 2016, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Nance is a big dude — 6-6, 235 — and has good mound presence and a fastball that can touch 98 miles per hour. He retired the Nats 1-2-3 in the ninth with a strikeout and two groundouts. Here’s the last out [VIDEO].
If that’s the sort of performance we can expect from Nance, maybe the Cubs lucked into some talent here. Nance has options remaining, too, so if not immediately needed in the Cubs pen, he can ride the Iowa Shuttle. In any case, congrats to Nance on a successful MLB debut and here’s hoping for more good stuff from him going forward.
The summary of the game from a Nats beat writer:
Final: Cubs 7, Nats 3. Chicago showered Jon Lester and Kyle Schwaber with love upon their return to Wrigley, then beat them.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) May 18, 2021
And beat them with timely hitting and a varied offense — three homers, but also nine other hits, and solid relief work.
Rizzo on Lester, who he’s known since Anthony was an 18-year-old kid in the Red Sox system dealing with cancer:
Anthony Rizzo, on Jon Lester: “He’s the most generous person I’ve ever played with.” pic.twitter.com/GyGheWC0rq— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 17, 2021
The Cubs moved back to the .500 mark at 20-20. It is the eighth time this year they’ve been there (also 1-1, 3-3, 4-4, 9-9, 10-10, 16-16 and 17-17) and hopefully they’ll continue to move up from this point. The win, coupled with a loss by the Reds, put the Cubs in third place, half a game behind the Brewers and 2½ behind the first-place Cardinals.
One last note, on the debut of new Cubs PA announcer Jeremiah Paprocki: He did a fine job. He’s got a good voice and it felt comfortable hearing him, as if he’d been doing the job for years. Kudos to the Cubs for an excellent hire and congrats to Jeremiah.
The Cubs will go for two in a row over the Nats and three straight overall Tuesday evening (weather permitting, and this forecast doesn’t look good). Zach Davies is the Cubs’ scheduled starter and Patrick Corbin will go for the Nats. Game time is 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.