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Lester sets tone before Cubs capitalize for rally

Veteran chased by tying HR after 6 shutout innings; hobbled Baez sparks decisive 8th
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Jon Lester is proud of his self-described "old crusty school" approach to pitching, one that doesn't consider launch angles or fielding independent pitching.

His job description is simple -- help his team win games. And although he didn't factor into the official decision in the Cubs' 2-1 victory over the D-backs on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, there was little doubt in the home clubhouse about who played the largest role in the outcome.

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CHICAGO -- Jon Lester is proud of his self-described "old crusty school" approach to pitching, one that doesn't consider launch angles or fielding independent pitching.

His job description is simple -- help his team win games. And although he didn't factor into the official decision in the Cubs' 2-1 victory over the D-backs on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, there was little doubt in the home clubhouse about who played the largest role in the outcome.

View Full Game Coverage

"He was the reason why we won," center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said. "He kept us in there."

Video: ARI@CHC: Strop closes 9th inning to wrap up the save

In his first game since his shortest outing of the season, Lester completed six shutout innings with seven strikeouts before one bad pitch chased him from the game. He left a fastball up to A.J. Pollock, who hit it for a game-tying home run to left field to lead off the seventh.

Pollock's 13th homer evened the score at 1 after the Cubs' offense scored just one run off a D-backs starter for the third straight game. The Cubs were too far behind to mount a comeback by the time Arizona turned to its bullpen in the first two games of the series, but because of Lester's one-run performance, all they needed was a final rally.

Video: ARI@CHC: Pollock clubs game-tying solo homer in 7th

"It felt a lot better," Lester said. "Obviously, the results are night and day compared to the last time [vs. the Cardinals], but talking about mechanics and making the adjustment and the way the ball was coming out compared to the St. Louis start, it was a lot better.

"Baseball is baseball. It's been played for however long, 120 years or whatever, and it's always going to be the same. ... At the end of the day, it's about winning the baseball game, and if you're winning the baseball game, that's all that matters."

The spark for Chicago's final run came from Javier Baez, who left Tuesday night's game with a bruised knee but was able to pinch-hit to lead off the eighth. He dribbled an infield single and advanced to second on pitcher T.J. McFarland's errant throw. Another throwing error from D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed allowed Tyler Chatwood, who pinch-ran for Baez, to score the winning run.

Video: ARI@CHC: Cubs capitalize on errors, take lead in 8th

"I was so worried about [Baez] moving," manager Joe Maddon said. "His instincts took over."

Those instincts weren't without their consequences, though. Baez said he twice felt a "pinch" in his knee on the play, first when he jolted out of the box, and again as he ran through first base safely. When he saw McFarland's wild throw, Baez hobbled his way to second where, shortly after, he was lifted for a pinch-runner.

Video: ARI@CHC: Baez reaches second after infield hit in 8th

Baez described his knee as a "bruise that tickles at the same time," which he said means it's "nothing bad." It's still swollen, the All-Star second baseman said, but he thinks he can play in Thursday's series finale.

"I tried to get out of the box fast," Baez said of the play. "I didn't want a swinging bunt, but it happens. That was the winning run right there."

The Cubs scored first when Almora led off the fourth with a double to right field, his second of the game, and scored on Ben Zobrist's single.

Video: ARI@CHC: Zobrist singles home Almora to open scoring

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Lester's exit, Carl Edwards Jr. entered and proceeded to toss two perfect frames with a pair of strikeouts, including the 200th of his career, before Pedro Strop handled the closer duties in the ninth.

Video: ARI@CHC: Edwards closes 2 perfect innings, earns win

Strop worked around a sun-aided double by Paul Goldschmidt to retire the side and secure his fourth save of the season and Edwards' third victory.

Video: ARI@CHC: Strop on saving the game, Cubs' bullpen

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
It almost seems like a requirement for Almora to make a highlight-reel defensive play when Lester pitches, and Wednesday's game was no exception. Ahmed roped a liner to center field, but Almora made a slick diving snag for the second inning's second out. It was a 4-star catch with a 39-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™.

Video: ARI@CHC: Almora lays out for a diving grab in center

HE SAID IT
"I don't care if you gave up 27 hard-hit outs, it's 27 outs and you threw a perfect game, so move on. I think when guys pitch well, there needs to be a justification for it. When guys don't pitch well, they seem to look at the numbers in front of them and there's no justification for it. I've been a part of both. You guys know my take on both of them. I guess I'm just the old crusty school guy who just keeps running out there." -- Lester, on analytics

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Cubs had already scored one in the fourth inning and were threatening for more when Zobrist made a rare baserunning blunder. D-backs catcher John Ryan Murphy blocked a ball in the dirt and back-picked Zobrist at third base, where he had crept too far down the line. Originally ruled safe, a brief replay review overturned the call on the field.

Video: ARI@CHC: Murphy picks off Zobrist on overturned call

UP NEXT
Chatwood will close the series against the D-backs on Thursday. The right-hander may have walked six over 5 1/3 innings in his last outing against the Cardinals, but he gave up only one hit. Chatwood is well aware that he needs to cut down on the walks. He leads the Majors with 79 issued over 89 1/3 innings. In 11 career games against the D-backs, he's 5-3 with a 4.09 ERA. Right-hander Zack Godley is scheduled to start for the D-backs, with first pitch scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.

Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Carl Edwards Jr., Jon Lester, Pedro Strop