GOODYEAR -- With the Indians hosting the Cubs on Monday night in front of a packed house at Goodyear Ballpark, the bases had "World Series Rematch" decals on the sides. It was a fun touch in this Cactus League setting, but the teams know that rematch remains a dream that
GOODYEAR -- With the Indians hosting the Cubs on Monday night in front of a packed house at Goodyear Ballpark, the bases had "World Series Rematch" decals on the sides. It was a fun touch in this Cactus League setting, but the teams know that rematch remains a dream that will have to wait at least seven months.
In a 4-3 win for Cleveland, Indians starter Danny Salazar was electric with nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras put on a show with a pair of impressive home runs. The game was played in front of a ballpark-record crowd of 11,624, which eclipsed the gathering for the Cubs-Indians spring matchup on March 19 last year.
"He was good," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Salazar. "And I think the night game was good for everybody. It looked like they had a little more juice. We've been here a long time. It's been hot. So, it's nice to play a game under the lights and there was some people here. I think it was good for us."
Salazar, who will make his season debut on April 5 against the Rangers, allowed both of Contreras' home runs. The Chicago catcher pulled a pitch to deep left for a leadoff shot in the fourth and later added a line-drive, opposite-field blast with one out in the sixth. Those were the only two runs allowed by Salazar, who walked two and scattered five hits.
Contreras now has five home runs in Cactus League play this spring.
"Willie's very special," Cubs starter Jonathan Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as the middle of the order, protecting [Anthony Rizzo] and [Kris Bryant] so they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys."
Lester worked six innings, allowing four runs on five hits and ending with five strikeouts against no walks. Lester allowed three runs in the second, when Edwin Encarnacion (double), Brandon Guyer (single) and Austin Jackson (RBI single) each reached to open the inning. Abraham Almonte added a solo homer off Lester in the fifth.
Lester, who has a .064 (10-for-57) career batting average, also delivered with his bat. Following a double by Albert Almora Jr. in the sixth, Lester came through with an RBI single off Indians righty Shawn Armstrong. That marked the first run allowed through nine spring appearances for the Tribe bullpen candidate.
"I was happy everything was coming out a little more crisp today," Lester said of his outing. "It was probably the atmosphere and playing in front of the fans and the lights -- that helps. The results were obviously a lot better as the game went on, my stuff got a lot better. The score, hits, all that stuff, whatever, but I was really, really excited with how the ball was coming out and how I felt and how I was able to repeat consistently through the whole game."
Almora Jr. also made a highlight-reel catch in the seventh, robbing Jackson of an extra-base hit. Jackson sent a deep drive to left-center, where the Cubs center fielder made a leaping grab at the wall, eliciting a loud roar of approval from the crowd.
In his first Cactus League appearance since returning from Team USA, Indians relief ace Andrew Miller was charged with facing Kristopher Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. Miller breezed through the assignment with two groundouts and one strikeout.
Cubs Up Next: On Tuesday, Jacob Arrieta will make his final tuneup before the regular season begins, facing the Giants at Sloan Park. First pitch was scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT. Arrieta has been working on cutting down on walks this spring. So far, he's issued four over 10 innings while striking out 10.
Indians Up Next: In his final tuneup start for Opening Day, Tribe ace Corey Kluber is scheduled to start and work six innings in a 4:05 p.m. ET Cactus League tilt against the Brewers on Tuesday in Phoenix. Relievers Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister and Armstrong are also slated to pitch, and left fielder Michael Brantley will be in the lineup.
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Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.