OAKLAND, Calif. – Cubs starter Jon Lester spent thousands of dollars Thursday to treat seven teammates to a round of golf at bucket-list Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Cubs’ day off.
“He loves taking care of his teammates and making sure everybody has a good time,” Jake Arrieta said.
You should have seen what he did for them the next day.
The big left-hander took a one-hit shutout into the sixth Friday night in Oakland during a strong seven-inning performance to beat the Athletics 7-2 in the opener of a three-game series – giving the Cubs their first five-game winning streak since May.
“We did come ready to play today,” manager Joe Maddon said, alluding to the Cubs four-run first. “And then, of course, Jonny permitted it to really take hold. He pitched extremely well.”
Lester, who pitched the final two months of 2014 with the A’s, including the start in their wild-card loss to Kansas City, struck out eight and walked none.
Four of the six hits he allowed came during the A’s two-run sixth.
But by then Lester (12-4) was working with a 7-0 lead – thanks, in part, to Jorge Soler’s tone-setting three-run homer in the first after being activated from the disabled list before the game.
“That kind of changes your game plan going in,” Lester said of the big first inning. “You obviously have something you want to go with, and you get four in the first, now it’s just about throwing strikes and putting them on the defensive and attacking.”
The Cubs have won five straight for the first time since a six-game streak May 24-30, improving their best-in-baseball record to 26 games over .500 – and inspiring postgame media questions about seeing the finish line.
“We’ve got a long ways to go from the finish line. I hope nobody’s worried about the finish line right now,” Lester said. “We’ve got a good team. We feel good about ourselves.
“But we’ll worry about showing up tomorrow ready to go again, just because we know that we have the target on our backs and everybody wants to beat us. So we’ve got to make sure we show up to play every day.”
Soler showing up Friday helped the effort.
Despite little indication at Class AA Tennessee to suggest Soler was ready to produce in the big leagues, the Cubs ended his 11-game minor-league rehab assignment and put him in the starting lineup as the designated hitter Friday.
The result: Soler hammer-stroked the third big-league pitch he’d seen in two months off the concrete steps behind the left field wall so hard the ball bounced back into left field.
It was the first extra-base hit at any level in two months for Soler, who went just 6-for-37 (.162) with 16 strikeouts during his rehab assignment.
“I’m just really happy they called me up to be here today,” Soler said through the help of coach Henry Blanco translating from Spanish. “I was coming here ready, 100 percent.”
“Soler was a big part of that win,” said Maddon, who had said before the game Soler might be more focused and motivated than he was during a lengthy minor-league stretch.
“I’ve seen that with different guys,” Maddon said. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I just think it happens. I think it’s a mind kind of game.”
Soler, who was an impact hitter for the Cubs during the postseason last fall, spent two months on the DL because of a hamstring injury.
“I was a little bit frustrated being out two months,” he said. “But I just wanted to keep a positive attitude and try to do my best.”
How does he explain the fact he hit nothing but singles since getting back on the field, until Friday?
“I was looking for a fastball,” he said. “And he threw me a fastball.”