CHICAGO -- The Cubs' second-half offensive surge continued on Saturday at Wrigley Field as Rene Rivera smacked his first career grand slam, Anthony Rizzo reached 100 RBIs with a bases-clearing triple and Javier Baez added a solo home run and RBI double to post a 14-12 victory over the Braves for Chicago's sixth straight win.
It wasn't easy, as the Braves scored eight runs in the final three innings. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he felt the momentum starting to shift in the ninth, and he had to call upon closer Wade Davis in a non-save situation to get the final two outs.
"Give them credit -- they were working some good at-bats," Maddon said of the Braves.
Jonathan Lester, making his first start since Aug. 17 after being sidelined with left shoulder fatigue, served up three home runs, including back-to-back shots on consecutive pitches to Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp in the third, but he held on for five innings for the win. Freeman added an RBI double in the eighth.
"It was good to get back out there," Lester said.
"The last inning, everything came together," Maddon said of the left-hander. "I talked to him in the dugout after the fourth, and he said, 'I feel great.'"
Rivera launched his homer in the second off Lucas Sims, who was making his seventh start, which is how many postseason starts Lester has made in 2015 and '16. The Cubs added five more runs in the fourth on Rizzo's three-run triple, plus Baez's RBI double and Jason Heyward's RBI single. Heyward also hit a solo homer with two outs in the eighth.
With the win, Chicago is now a season-high 15 games over .500 and 6-0 vs. Atlanta. The Cubs have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Brewers in the National League Central.
At the All-Star break, the Cubs had scored as many runs as they had allowed (399). Since then, they have a plus-98 run differential, and their second-half run total of 292 leads the Majors. This is the sixth time in 19 games since Aug. 14 the Cubs have scored 10 or more runs.
"We have a good team, a good young team that has picked up a lot of experience over the last two years," Rizzo said. "Guys have been chipping away and playing loose now, and it's fun to see."
Braves rookie middle infielders Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies both recorded three hits. But their contributions weren't enough to overcome a pitching staff that surrendered 12 hits and issued six walks. Sims was charged with seven earned runs as he lasted just three-plus innings.
"You can't pitch like we did and expect to win any ballgames," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It wasn't any good from the get-go, and it wasn't real good as we went. It's good that we came back and scored the runs that we did, but we just made way, way too many mistakes."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Grand time: The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the second against Sims, and Rivera hit an 0-2 pitch 387 feet down the left-field line. It was Rivera's ninth homer this season, but his first since joining the Cubs on Aug. 19, when he was acquired off waivers from the Mets. It was the Cubs' sixth grand slam this season. Rivera tipped his cap to the crowd from the dugout after the slam.
"I was trying to just get something in the air, and bring one run home," Rivera said. "I wasn't thinking, 'Hit a homer,' just drive something to the outfield and get a fly ball or base hit and drive in one and keep the line moving. He threw a curveball and it hung, and I put a good swing on it and hit it out." More >
Homer happy: The Braves loaded the bases against Lester in the first inning, but he escaped that mess. With one out in the third, Albies singled and Freeman launched the first pitch he saw into the left-field bleachers for his 24th home run. Kemp then hit Lester's next pitch into the bleachers to pull within one run. Rio Ruiz added another homer off Lester in the Braves' fourth.
Freeman recorded two extra-base hits, but he struck out as the potential tying run to end the game.
"It's always a little too late, and we always come up short," Freeman said. "At least we gave them a game and gave them a little scare at the end." More >
"The curveball on the grand slam was one of those that as soon as you throw it, you just want to reel it back or hope maybe it's so bad they don't even swing. That's on me. I kind of set the tone. The guys did awesome to battle back. I didn't get us off to a very good start, and it kind of cost us the ballgame." -- Sims
"There are oil paintings, there's paint by number, and there's the Dick Tracy glitter stuff. I've got that [game as a] paint by agonizing numbers. It was difficult, but we won it and did a lot of good things." -- Maddon
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Rizzo's bases-clearing triple gave him 100 RBIs for the season, and he's the fourth player in Cubs history with three seasons of 30 homers, 30 doubles and 100 RBIs. Hack Wilson did so four times (1927-30), Billy Williams three times (1965, '70, '72), and Sammy Sosa three times (1997, 2000-01). More >
Prior to Rivera, the last player to hit a grand slam for his first homer in a Cubs uniform was David DeJesus on May 11, 2012.
The Cubs gave up 12 runs and still won for the first time since Aug. 20, 2002, vs. the Astros, which also ended in a 14-12 Chicago victory.
The Braves' attempt to rally in the ninth was fueled by a successful challenge after Swanson was called out on a grounder to second base. After the call was overturned, and Atlanta had runners at the corners. Kurt Suzuki scored on a Matt Adams groundout.
Braves:Max Fried will make his first career start when this series finale concludes Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET. Ranked as the Braves' 10th-best prospect by MLBPipeline.com, the young southpaw made four relief appearances for Atlanta in August.
Cubs:Mike Montgomery, who was 2-0 subbing for Lester, will get another start as the Cubs go with a six-man rotation. On July 19 at Atlanta, Montgomery not only pitched well -- giving up one run on two hits over six innings -- but he hit his first career home run. First pitch on Sunday will be 1:20 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.
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