CHICAGO -- Jon Lester came into Monday’s game vs. the Angels having lost his last three decisions and having struggled in May, going 2-3 with a 4.28 ERA in six starts.
Following his last start against the Astros, in which he allowed seven runs, Lester acknowledged that, in a results-driven business like baseball, his recent stretch of games wouldn’t cut it.
“It’s a hard start to walk away with positives,” Lester told reporters. “I can’t sit here and lie to you guys that I feel good about that.”
But the Cubs’ ace kicked off June with a stellar performance, and the results were exactly what he wanted them to be in Monday’s 8-1 victory at Wrigley Field.
Lester retired 12 consecutive hitters following David Fletcher’s single to lead off the game and went on to retire 21 of the 26 Angels he faced.
“Today was better,” Lester said. “I had command of the curveball and changeup through most of the day. We were able to kind of keep them off balance with that.”
Lester made big pitches when he needed to all afternoon, including inducing a 6-4-3 double play in the sixth inning that ended Los Angeles’ potential rally and leaving two-time American League Most Valuable Player Award winner Mike Trout in the on-deck circle. He also stranded the bases loaded with a huge strikeout of Taylor Ward in the seventh inning.
“I would have liked that inning to not go that way, but to be able to get him right there with the bases loaded and [Shohei] Ohtani on deck was big,” he said. “You minimize the damage. You try to keep our team going with the momentum on our side, and we were able to do that.”
Lester tossed seven innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out six. He picked up his first victory since May 12 vs. the Brewers and is now 2-2 with a 1.76 ERA at Wrigley Field this season.
With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Gonzalez -- who went 1-for-3 with a run scored -- sprinted to the warning track on a fly ball from Jonathan Lucroy and snared the ball while falling to the ground, saving a certain bases-clearing knock -- much to the delight of Lester and the Wrigley crowd.
“That’s the game-changer,” manager Joe Maddon said. “[We] brought the guy in because of the bat primarily, but he’s been a great defender, too, and he showed it there.”
“That’s the reason he has Gold Gloves,” Jason Heyward said. “People don’t realize how close he was to hitting that wall. It was a hell of a play.”
Offense comes alive
The Cubs’ offense that had scuffled in the last week sprung to life. After averaging just three runs per game over the last seven games, Cubs hitters put pressure on the Angels’ pitching staff all afternoon before breaking the game open with a five-run sixth inning.
The offense put runs on the board without relying solely on the long ball. They scored runs on two doubles, a sac fly and a single in the big sixth inning. In the fourth, following a single by Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant laid down down a perfect bunt down the third-base line and beat it out for a single. Javier Baez would give the Cubs a 1-0 lead on an RBI groundout.
“All his own, man. That was all on his own. It shocked all of us, but it got that first run in,” Maddon said of Bryant. “The at-bats started out less than pedestrian, then we got better as the game progressed.”
While things hadn’t gone right for the Cubs as a whole, much off that could be attributed to their catalyst, Baez, not having much success recently.
Baez came into the game hitting just .179 in his last 10 games, having struck out in 48 percent of his plate appearances over that stretch. It’s no coincidence that the same day the Cubs put together a huge offensive output, Baez also had a big day.
The Cubs shortstop went 2-for-4 with his 14th homer of the season and three RBIs. Baez added an RBI double to ignite the sixth inning. Willson Contreras added a solo shot for his 13th of the season.
“The world revolves around confidence," Maddon said. "We came out of that road trip, and it wasn’t so good. Now it’s only one game, we have another team coming in tomorrow. So it’ll be different. Javy felt the ball on the barrel. Contreras felt the ball on the barrel. That can carry over.”