As focused as Jon Lester was on the matter at hand Sunday at Wrigley Field, the two video boards behind him displayed the obvious.
One reminded Lester that he hadn’t allowed a hit entering the seventh inning against the Pirates. The other told him he was quickly approaching 100 pitches, suggesting that even if Lester continued to dominate, he likely wouldn’t finish the game.
But when Starling Marte drove Lester’s 101st pitch into right field for a single, any notion of his second career no-hitter vanished. When Jung Ho Kang delivered an RBI double two batters later, Lester’s 6⅓ hitless innings became a moot point.
Kang added a home run in the ninth against Hector Rondon, and the Pirates held on to beat the Cubs 2-1.
“It really doesn’t matter now,” Lester said. “It sucks to go through that whole scenario there and leave one in the middle and the guy [Kang] doesn’t miss it.”
Pirates ace Gerrit Cole made it stand up.
Cole held the Cubs to three hits in eight innings and struck out seven. The Cubs threatened in the ninth against closer Mark Melancon. Dexter Fowler walked and Jason Heyward singled him to third. One out later, Fowler scored on Anthony Rizzo’s sacrifice fly. But after Heyward stole second base, Ben Zobrist grounded out into a shift.
“That’s the way it goes, man,” Heyward said. “We gave ourselves a chance. That’s all we can ask for. It’s not going to happen every time.”
Until that point, it was Lester who had given the Cubs every chance to complete the series sweep. Lester, who threw a no-hitter May 19, 2008, with the Red Sox, struck out nine, lowered his ERA to 1.88 and turned in his seventh quality start in eight outings.
The rate at which the Cubs have scored runs has made life easy for the starters. Although Lester didn’t have that luxury Sunday, he knows it won’t be every day that the Cubs’ bats are quiet.
Outside of the fastball to Kang that he didn’t locate, Lester discovered a silver lining. He found his curveball, and he knows he’s in a better place now than he was at this point last season, his first with the Cubs.
“I was behind the 8-ball last year to start the year and put myself even further behind the 8-ball with a terrible April,” Lester said. “Hopefully, I’ll just continue to give our team chances to win ballgames, and that’s all I will try to do the whole year.”
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