CHICAGO -- Jon Lester gave the Chicago Cubs a chance to win on Sunday with a stellar performance on the mound, and even tried to jump-start a dormant offense with a long double off the base of the right-field wall.
The Cubs expect Lester to perform on the mound. At the plate, not so much.
“I closed my eyes and hit it pretty good,” he said of his first career extra-base hit leading off the sixth inning. “I tried to get something going.”
Lester (1-1) certainly had things going on the mound too. He allowed just one run on four hits and struck out 10 in 7⅓ innings. The only blemish against the left-hander was a home run by Nolan Arenado -- who accounted for both runs with a pair of solo blasts -- with two out in the fourth.
“That’s a tough one,” Lester said. “It’s hard to look back and go. Obviously I know I threw the ball well, but a loss is a loss. At the end of the day, I didn’t execute one pitch and it ended up costing us. But I’ve got to step back and look at the general outcome of how things looked.”
Actually, he was perhaps inches from not being scored on at all. Arenado’s homer was a high fly that just dropped into the basket in front of the new small scoreboard in left field. Jorge Soler had a bead on the ball and it appeared it would have dropped into his glove -- if not for the basket.
The baskets were originally installed to keep fans from falling onto the field from the bleachers, but they serve no purpose in that part of the bleachers now because there are no fans there. The seating is above the scoreboard, about 10 feet above the basket.
“Jon pitched really, really well,” catcher David Ross said. “It was a good, well-pitched game by both sides. They happened to be the better team today.”
Lester still is having some issues fielding and throwing to first base, but even that worked out for him, sort of, on Sunday.
Rockies center fielder Brandon Barnes led off the eighth inning with a bunt in front of the mound. Lester pounced and quickly barehanded the ball. Although he had plenty of time to throw to first base, he rushed and spiked the ball into the ground. Somehow, though, the ball reached first base on two bounces and Anthony Rizzo caught it just before Barnes reached the bag for an out.
“Awkward play, especially for a lefty,” Lester said. “It would be a lot easier to turn all the way around, but I didn’t think I had him, so I had to pick it up and just chuck it over there.
“Me and Riz, we have an agreement where I’m gonna miss down. I know he’s really good at picking the ball, so I’m gonna miss down and it was just a two-hopper instead of the one-hopper. At the end of the day I don’t really care how it looks as long as we get the out.”
The play looked so awkward that the official scorer erroneously announced “E1” in the press box immediately afterward. But there was no error because Barnes was out.
Aside from his fielding, Lester is feeling much more comfortable this year than last, when he was the team’s big offseason acquisition after signing a six-year, $155 million contract.
“Any time you spend eight months with these guys, you feel that much more comfortable around guys,” he said. “It makes things easier, it makes you relax, it makes just enjoy going out and playing baseball with these guys, whereas last year, you’re, I guess, trying to kind of show them what you’ve done in your career as opposed to just going out and playing.”