Who’s afraid of Johnny Cueto?
Cubs front office officials and the manager said they were last fall, when the Giants’ All-Star pitcher loomed as a possible Game 5 starter in the first round of the playoffs – until the Cubs rallied in the ninth in San Francisco to close out that best-of-five series in Game 4.
Of course, those fears got back to Cubs starter Jon Lester, who was prepared for the Game 5 showdown.
“I mean, I’m not too shabby, right? I’ve had a decent career,” said Lester, who dominated the Giants in a 99-pitch, complete-game performance Tuesday to beat Cueto 4-1 in a rematch seven months in the making.
Lester couldn’t hold the straight face long before breaking into a smile.
“Nah, nobody wants to face a guy like that. He was throwing the ball really, really well at the time,” said Lester, who beat Cueto 1-0 in the first game of that Division Series. “I know what I can do on my side of the ball and all that stuff. But that would have been a tough game.”
On Tuesday, Lester struck out 10, walked none and gave up just four hits – three of which came in the fifth inning, when he was working with a 4-0 lead. He retired the final 13 he faced after that and faced the minimum three batters in every inning but the fifth (getting a double play along the way) for the Cubs’ first complete game of the year, 15th of Lester’s career.
“That’s classic Jon Lester,” said left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who became the first hitter to clear the rebuilt right-field bleachers with a Sheffield homer that put the Cubs up 1-0 in the first.
“Schwarber definitely set the tone,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Whoa. It got small fast. It’s almost like when we used to watch Star Trek and when it came on the Enterprise would just fly by the screen and get really small. It kind of had that Enterprise-esque look to it. It was there and it was gone.”
Jason Heyward added a first-pitch shot into the right-field basket with one out in the second, and Anthony Rizzo followed Kris Bryant’s leadoff single in the fourth with a two-run shot into the right-field bleachers, as the Cubs won for the fifth time in seven games.
Cueto (4-4) has pitched with a blister on his right middle finger all season and recently developed a second blister on his index finger.
Regardless, this night belonged to Lester, who improved to 12-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his last 16 home starts – the longest such streak by a Cub since Jon Lieber won 13 in a row in 2001-02.
“The complete game now is few and far between,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to do now, especially in the National League. There’s always that gratification to go out there and finish it and walk off and shake everybody’s hand as they come off the field.”
Notes: The Cubs revved up their bullpen shuttle again Tuesday, optioning left-hander Zac Rosscup to Class AAA Iowa after a 10-pitch appearance in his only day with the club. Taking his place was Felix Pena, who was recalled from Iowa. …Ian Happ failed to reach base via hit or walk for the first time in his nine games.