PITTSBURGH — Originally, Jon Lester was scheduled to pitch the series opener Friday in Boston instead of the series finale Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
It would have been his first start against his former team, after an unpleasant departure in 2014 that included a lowball extension offer and eventual trade to Oakland.
“It’ll be nice just to go back and not have to worry about all that hoopla and just kind of hang out,” Lester said. “But at the same time it would be kind of fun to pitch there as well.”
That had to look even a lot more fun by the end of the second inning in a 6-5 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park. If nothing else, the reception would have been better at Fenway Park.
On a night Lester considered it “probably the best I’ve thrown the ball all year,” the Pirates peppered him for five runs on seven hits in the first two innings — a stretch that included three infield hits and an error on catcher Willson Contreras’ dropped-tag attempt that yielded an unearned run.
He retired 11 of 12 after that, until Josh Bell’s one-out homer in the sixth.
Lester, who swapped places in the rotation with Jake Arrieta because of the Pirates’ early struggles against lefties, allowed only two runs in his first three starts combined.
“I had better stuff today than I did that last start [against the Pirates] when I threw seven shutout,” Lester said.
In his second consecutive start, Lester allowed five earned runs. It was his third time as a Cub allowing five earned runs in back-to-back starts.
“At the end of the day we lost so it doesn’t really matter how I felt, how my stuff was,” he said.
At least Lester didn’t have to stick around long in Pittsburgh to think about it. The Green Monster and chowder should be welcome sights and scents to him by Friday.
“It’ll be nice to get to see some of the people in the organization that are still there, from back in my minor-league days and big-league days,” said Lester, who doesn’t have many old teammates left on the Red Sox roster after 2½ years of turnover.
Which isn’t so bad, he said.
“It’s not like me signing and then going back in ’15 when most of the guys were still there, so I think it makes it easier to go back and deal with everything,” he said. “It’ll be nice to see [Dustin Pedroia], and I’ve been texting David [Ortiz] and hopefully he’ll come by and hang out for a minute.
“It’ll be fun.”
Despite Lester’s struggles, the Cubs stayed within striking distance against struggling right-hander Tyler Glasnow and the Pirates’ bullpen.
“It did feel like we scored a lot more than five runs,” said Kris Bryant, who had three hits and scored twice on Anthony Rizzo hits — including a two-run homer in the eighth by Rizzo that made it a one-run game.
“We had more than a ton of opportunities,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Weird night. . . . There were a lot of awkward moments that went against us.”
The game was not without its historic moment, when Gift
Ngoepe, making his big-league debut as the majors’ first African player, singled and walked in his two plate appearances.
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