MILWAUKEE — Sure, the Cubs broke out the bats. And they got the result they wanted Thursday, an 8-0 victory over the Brewers in the opener of the first “big series” of the season.
But when it comes to things that might resonate for the rest of the season, check out Jon Lester on the mound and maybe even Javy Baez on the bases.
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That includes the textbook “Jordan to Pippen bounce pass” Lester executed to Kris Bryant, just in time for the NBA playoffs.
That’s what Lester and infield coach Brian Butterfield called it during weeks of work this spring as part of their plan for Lester to overcome his yips throwing to bases.
“It’s very big,” manager Joe Maddon said of the play that ended the first inning and started Lester on a path that led to six scoreless innings.
Brewers baserunner Ryan Braun was trying to get into Lester’s head and make him look foolish. First, Braun stole second as Lester held the ball, not throwing either to home or to a base. Then Braun tried to take third the same way, walking to a huge lead and taking off. This time Lester stepped toward third and threw a one-hopper to Bryant that nabbed Braun by a foot. Then Lester stared down Braun.
“You can’t control the other team’s game plan,” Lester said. “You’ve just got to try to execute your stuff, and we were able to get the free out there, so that’s good.”
After the play, Baez said something to Braun, who laughed.
“I told him only once, not twice,” Baez said.
The Cubs knew what was coming, which was part of why the original pitching schedule had Lester missing this series, until Tuesday’s rainout forced him into Miller Park.
The Brewers, who led the league in steals last year, stole five bases against Lester, including two by Braun, the last time they faced him in this park, in 2016.
Maddon said the benefits of Thursday’s move include a confidence boost for Lester.
And this: “It’s all written down,” Maddon said, referring to the scouts in attendance.
“Picking [the Cardinals’ Tommy] Pham off last [September], and now he’s bounced it. I think he’s going to really get comfortable with that. And that’s all he needs to do to fulfill what we need to get done.”
That, along with continuing to keep guys off the bases. He had no more than one runner on base at a time Thursday, and after the Cubs gave him a 5-0 lead before he took the mound in the third, the Brewers were done trying anything.
And Baez made his own impact on the bases.
After driving in the first two runs of the game with a single in the second, Baez scored from first on a ball Lester hit past second baseman Hernan Perez for one error. The ball then was bobbled by center fielder Lorenzo Cain for another.
“Javy never ceases to amaze people with what he’s able to do on the basepaths, let alone his defense and everything else,” Lester said.
Most runners would have held at third, but Baez said he looked over his shoulder just before hitting the bag and saw the bobble, so he kept going. He slid headfirst around the tag.
“They let me run the bases how I want to, and obviously I have fun out there,” Baez said. “In that moment, I was just reacting to the play and hustling down the line.”
Making the Brewers pay for the mistake in the field is a “hit in the solar plexus,” Maddon said.
“If he’s running, he will look behind to see what’s going on.
Going back in the day, you see Willie Mays doing that a lot. He’s got extraordinary instincts on the bases.”
Talk about a tone-setter.
“This is a big series,” said veteran Ben Zobrist, who delivered two hits Thursday. “Even though this is the first we’re playing them all year, it’s four games, and we want to get things going right.”
The Brewers suffered a second big injury blow this week. One day after outfielder Christian Yelich was said to be “day-to-day” with an oblique injury, Brewers closer Corey Knebel collapsed on the mound after throwing a pitch in the ninth Thursday, suffering a hamstring injury that put him on the DL.