MIAMI -- Check the Marlins off the list for Jonathan Lester. The veteran left-hander, who hadn't faced them much in his career, was winless against Miami until Saturday afternoon. Lester overcame a sluggish three-run first, regrouped and was dominant for the rest of his seven innings in the Cubs' 5-3 win at Marlins Park.
In four previous career starts, Lester was 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 22 innings against the Marlins. The 33-year-old has now beaten 29 of the 30 big league clubs. The lone team he hasn't beaten are the Red Sox, the club he broke in with and has never faced.
"When you give up three in the first, you really have to just lock it down," said Lester, who gave up J.T. Realmuto's homer in the first inning and then faced one batter over the minimum. "You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. You have to take that mindset that it's back to zero and not keep looking at the scoreboard."
Javier Baez hit an RBI single in the fourth, and Albert Almora Jr. followed with a game-tying RBI double. Baez's two-run double off Nick Wittgren gave Chicago the lead for good in the sixth inning. Chicago has won two of the first three in the series, with the finale set for Sunday.
"Our guys battled back, and that was huge. Defense and infield played really, really well," Lester said.
Ian Happ's two-out RBI single in the first inning off Justin Nicolino gave the Cubs the early lead, but Realmuto put the Marlins in front with his two-out, three-run homer in the bottom half.
"Obviously, the first inning for us, we give up a run," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Nico kind of gets out of it in the first, then we get the three. You feel good, like you've got a chance to do something with him, then he pretty much handcuffed us the rest of the day."
Realmuto's homer, his seventh of the year, traveled a projected 411 feet with a 102-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™. After yielding the home run, Lester retired the next 13 he faced.
"After that first inning, we were quiet with the bats," said Realmuto, who is having an All-Star-caliber first half. "[Lester] did a great job of keeping us off-balance. We were swinging at his pitches. We weren't getting in good counts. As an offense, once we jumped out early like that, we've got to build on runs. It's unacceptable to score three in the first and not sniff another one the rest of the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Two-base barrage: Set down in order by Wittgren in the fifth, the Cubs struck quickly in the sixth, using a pair of doubles to grab a two-run lead. Addison Russell doubled to open the inning and Happ singled on a ball that Russell wasn't sure would be caught, so he advanced just to third, with Happ taking second on the throw. The crucial showdown was Wittgren against Baez. With the count 2-2, Baez ripped a 92.6-mph fastball to the wall in right for the go-ahead two-run double.
Caught in a Flash: A momentum-shifting play came with one out in the bottom of the sixth and Dee Gordon at second. After singling and stealing second, Gordon attempted to swipe third with the left-handed-hitting Christian Yelich at the plate. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras made a strong throw and Baez applied the tag for the second out. On the close play, Miami challenged, but after a review of 49 seconds, the call was confirmed. Yelich struck out to end the threat.
Prior to the caught stealing, Gordon didn't advance to third on Giancarlo Stanton's groundout to short, on a ball that was toward the middle.
"It's obviously one you don't like to give up," Mattingly said of the caught stealing. "You'd like him to be safe, if he goes on that one, where he's sure. I think the real play is not advancing on the Giancarlo ball up the middle."
"Good hitting team right there, you've got to kind of pitch backwards. I thought we made a good pitches they put good swings on. That's baseball. It's just a tough one." -- Nicolino
"That's a good lineup. We've pitched well three games against these guys. I like their lineup a lot, not a little bit. So I think our pitchers have done a great job. The bullpen again was really good." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team has held the Marlins to seven hits over the last two games
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Lester struck out four in his seven innings, giving him 501 as a Cub.
Cubs: The Cubs send Mike Montgomery to the mound in Sunday's series finale with the Marlins at 12:10 p.m. CT. The left-hander is coming off his first win of the season, a six-inning three-hit scoreless outing against the Padres, striking out four while walking two.
Marlins: Wrapping up the three-game set with the Cubs on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET, Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19) goes for Miami. The right-hander is 7-0 with a 3.06 ERA lifetime against the Cubs.
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