Jon Lester can speak from experience regarding the expectations that come with a big contract.
So if anyone can relate to the struggles Jason Heyward has endured after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract, it’s Lester. After signing a six-year, $155 million deal, the left-hander went 11-12 in his first year with the Cubs.
Lester might have been at the front of the reception line after Heyward hit a two-run home run in the Cubs’ 12-1 win over the Mariners on Friday at Wrigley Field.
“This year has been tough on him, I’m sure,” Lester said. “I’m sure people check the box score — they don’t watch the game — but he’s squared a lot of balls for us this year and he hasn’t had a lot to show for it. I know that’s hard because this game is built around results.”
Manager Joe Maddon points to Heyward’s bad luck and the number of hard-hit balls that either have been hit directly at someone or were affected by Wrigley’s unpredictable winds. But on Friday, Heyward’s two-run shot into the basket in right field was hit into the teeth of the wind, unaffected by any string of bad luck that previously might have cursed him.
The homer — Heyward’s fifth of the year and first since June 11 — was one of 14 Cubs hits, and it came before the Cubs broke the game open with a six-run sixth inning. Heyward, who was mired in a 5-for-40 slump since the All Star break, also drove in a run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run double in the inning and David Ross a solo home run.
Yet in the midst of all the offense, it might have been Heyward’s
1-for-4 showing that attracted the most praise.
“The guy just works so hard,” said Ben Zobrist, who played right field. “He’s had so much bad luck this year. So when you see him hit a ball like that into the wind, you’re just so happy that finally one went over the fence that he hit well.”
Lester (11-4) allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked two in six innings. He struck out the side twice, including in the first inning, when he gave up a leadoff single and yielded a walk that put runners on first and second with one out.
But Lester struck out Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager to end the threat before being given some breathing room by a three-run third. With two outs, Chris Coghlan had a two-run single and Kris Bryant an RBI single.
Justin Grimm and Mike Montgomery finished off the game, which was delayed by rain for 74 minutes in the middle of the seventh. But despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, nothing could drown out the Cubs’ offense.
“I try to always tell them, 12 runs and air-tight defense usually makes a pitcher’s job a lot easier,” Lester joked. “So that was good today, and they delivered on that.”
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