Jon Lester isn’t exactly pitching the way he expects to pitch seven starts into the season.
“I stink,” he said.
But it smelled like a win to the Cubs, who beat the New York Mets 4-3 in the opener of a seven-game homestand Monday, as the Cubs opened much of the Wrigley Field bleachers for the first time this season and unveiled a second video board, in right field.
Manager Joe Maddon and players said the energy and vibe in the ballpark was noticeably elevated with the opening of about 3,000 seats in left and center fields.
“No doubt,” said Anthony Rizzo, who followed rookie Kris Bryant with the second of back-to-back homers in the first inning off Jacob deGrom to set the tone for the game.
“They brought the noise today out there in left and center,” he said. “They kept it going all game. It’s exciting to have them back.”
After deGrom (3-4) hit Dexter Fowler with a pitch to open the game, Bryant hit his first Wrigley Field home run – christening the brand new left-field bleachers.
One pitch later the Cubs had a 3-0 lead and nearly enough for Lester – who sailed through the first three innings but only made it through six after giving up his own pair of back-to-back solo shots in the sixth to Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores.
Rookie Addison Russell’s two-out single in the fourth drove in the run that proved the difference.
It was only the third win for the Cubs in their last 10 games. Their last four wins all have been by one run – three belonging to Lester (3-2), no matter how bad he said he “stinks” compared to where he expects to be.
“My expectations are more than any that anyone else can put on me,” he said. “I think it was a story of good, bad and indifferent all in one [game]. … It’s something to build on. The biggest thing was we won.”
It was the fourth consecutive quality start for the left-hander the Cubs signed in December to a six-year, $155 million deal.
He’s 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in May, although this was first of three this month he fell short of seven innings and gave up more than one earned run.
Maddon blamed the missed start in spring training for what Lester and the club called a “dead arm” for putting Lester far enough behind that he’s still working back to full sharpness.
“I thnk Jon’s just fine,” Maddon said. “He was injured in spring training. Every time out I’ve seen him a little bit better. The cutter was a more pertinent pitch today, and the curve ball was better. Just give him a little bit more time as he builds into this thing. But I like what I’m seeing.”