CHICAGO -- Jonathan Lester's uncle Paul would have been proud.
Lester not only hit his first Major League home run but collected his 2,000th career strikeout on Tuesday in the Cubs' 16-4 win over the D-backs. The only downside was that Lester couldn't last long enough to get the win. The lefty was pulled after 104 pitches over four-plus innings, and he was miffed about not being able to go longer.
"I'll trade that home run in a heartbeat for a win," Lester said. "That's my job -- my job is to pitch deep into games, give innings, give our guys quality starts and then hand it off to the bullpen, and I didn't do that tonight."
The crowd of 40,709 gave Lester a standing ovation as he came out of the game, but the lefty just shook his head.
"My appreciation is there, but the outcome of the game, for me personally, on the selfish side of it, wasn't there," he said. "All the other stuff is cool, but to only go four-plus innings in a game that we had a commanding lead from jump street is, for me, not acceptable. I can say it's a weird night and foul balls and all this other nonsense, but I have to figure out a way to get through the fifth inning with 100-plus pitches. That's the frustrating part for me."
This has been an emotional time for Lester, who had written "PLACT" on his cap to honor his uncle Paul, who passed away last month. Lester's start was moved up so he could attend the funeral this week. His uncle attended Notre Dame, and as Fighting Irish fans know, "PLACT" stands for "Play Like a Champion Today."
On July 17, Lester hit a double and stole a base, and his home run didn't really surprise manager Joe Maddon. Lester came into the game 14-for-195 (.072) at the plate with five extra-base hits, all doubles. With two outs and a runner at first in the third inning against the D-backs' Patrick Corbin, Lester launched a 2-2 pitch 389 feet into the bleachers in left-center field. The ball had an exit velocity of 104 mph, per Statcast™.
"Did you see the swing? It was really well done and really on it, and he stayed through it long and didn't try to do too much with it," Maddon said. "He's got a technically good swing. Surprised? Not really. If he gets the barrel on the ball, it'll go far."
The blast gave the Cubs an 8-1 lead, and prompted a smile from Lester as he crossed home plate. He was greeted by high fives in the dugout and a hug from pitcher John Lackey before making a curtain call at the top of the Cubs' dugout to the crowd. There is a wager between the two as to who finishes the season with the most home runs.
"He's got his start Saturday to match," Lester said of Lackey.
Lester added another milestone when he struck out Jack Reinheimer, who was making his Major League debut, to end the fourth. It was the left-hander's ninth strikeout of the game and 2,000th of his career. He is the 25th lefty in MLB history to reach that mark, and he ranks fourth among active southpaws behind Carsten Sabathia (2,803), Cole Hamels (2,170) and Clayton Kershaw (2,086).
"When it's all said and done, I'll be able to sit back and go through everything and enjoy it then," Lester said. "For me, I think it's more letting my kids know I was all right at my job."