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Contreras in middle of everything for Cubs

Catcher aids Lester's scoreless start with arm, but can't keep foot on plate
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- There were a few firsts on Sunday for the Cubs, but not the kind they'd like to celebrate, and catcher Willson Contreras seemed to be involved in nearly every play.

The good news is Contreras and Jon Lester are doing just fine. The lefty threw seven scoreless innings, and was in line for the win after the Cubs took a one-run lead in the seventh. But the Pirates took advantage of some interesting plays to post a 6-1 win over the Cubs, who were swept at home for the first time since June 20-22, last season. That was the only time the Cubs were swept at Wrigley Field in 2016.

Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- There were a few firsts on Sunday for the Cubs, but not the kind they'd like to celebrate, and catcher Willson Contreras seemed to be involved in nearly every play.

The good news is Contreras and Jon Lester are doing just fine. The lefty threw seven scoreless innings, and was in line for the win after the Cubs took a one-run lead in the seventh. But the Pirates took advantage of some interesting plays to post a 6-1 win over the Cubs, who were swept at home for the first time since June 20-22, last season. That was the only time the Cubs were swept at Wrigley Field in 2016.

Full Game Coverage

Koji Uehara blew a save opportunity, and his scoreless inning streak was snapped at 20. The Cubs have blown a save in three straight games for the first time since May 8-10, 2000.

Video: PIT@CHC: Maddon on giving up lead late in the game

Contreras kept Lester in the game by throwing two potential basestealers out, and also picking off David Freese at first in the seventh.

"To be honest, I didn't expect the pickoff at first," Contreras said. "It was a reaction to the pitch. I called a back door cutter, and I made the throw to first. I knew [Josh Harrison] he was running to second [in the seventh], and I called a fastball away, and Jon Lester did a really good job of holding the ball and being quick to home plate."

Contreras was nearly to the dugout before the umpires signaled Harrison was out.

Video: PIT@CHC: Contreras nabs Freese at first

"I knew I made a good throw, and I have [Javier Baez] at second base," Contreras said. "That's why I was 100 percent sure [got him out]."

"That's a huge weapon for us, not only as a starting staff but the bullpen as well, to throw guys out and get guys off the base paths," Lester said.

The Lester-Contreras combo is making it tough on opponents.

"Lester shut us down," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We tried to push some things on the bases. That didn't work, either, but we didn't [pout]. We just kept playing. We were able to do some things late."

Video: PIT@CHC: Lester hurls seven innings of three-hit ball

Uehara took over in the eighth, and walked the first batter, then gave up a bloop double and walked another to load the bases. Mercer followed with an RBI single to tie the game. Hector Rondon took over, and got Starling Marte to hit into a fielder's choice, with Baez throwing to Contreras to force the runner at home.

But Andrew McCutchen hit a grounder to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who also threw home for the force. This time, the runner was called safe, but the Cubs challenged the ruling. After a review, it was upheld.

"I felt like I had my foot on the plate," Contreras said. "The throw was a little bit wide. To me, I cannot leave my ankle on home plate, because I can get hurt. I don't know why they called him safe."

Video: PIT@CHC: Hanson puts Bucs ahead after call stands

Freese then flied out to right and Mercer, who was on third, hesitated. Jason Heyward's throw home skipped past Contreras, and an alert Mercer scored on the error.

"The throw from Heyward kind of cut on Willie, and that made it a more difficult block and that's why that ball got by him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The play by Rizzo at the plate, that's an outstanding throw. We did so many good things. We did not get the hit. That's been more of our problem than anything, is not getting a clutch hit and not holding the lead in the latter part of the game."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester