Chicago, IL – In what many predicted to be a pitcher’s duel, the St. Louis Cardinals rode a solid pitching performance from John Lackey, and a little bit of baseball magic, to defeat the rival Chicago Cubs 6-0 on Monday night. The win improved the Cardinals to (54-28) and 6-4 in their last ten, while dropping the Cubs to (44-37) and a respectable 5-5 record in their last ten games.
Monday night’s contest lived up to every ounce of its billing through six-and-a-half innings with starters John Lackey and John Lester combining to allow no runs and just five hits, while striking out eleven batters.
The Cubs were looking to break what has been a five-game losing streak against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, and looked poised to do so in the early going. Two of the Chicago’s first three batters, 2015 All-Star selections Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, hit towering shots that died mercifully at the warning track.
Lester, himself, flirted with a no-hitter for the better part of six innings before a rocket single down the third base line by Jhonny Peralta sparked a pivotal seventh.
“I thought this was Lester’s best night by far,” said Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon, “the best he’s thrown the ball all year for an observational perspective. His stuff was outstanding, fastball, cutter, and curveball. Everything was working.”
The Cardinals would be the first to break onto the board later in that inning, capitalizing on a costly error by Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant in the very next at bat to plate two unearned runs, and completely shatter Lester’s shutout hopes.
It would get dramatically worse from there. Following a one hour and fifteen minute rain delay after the top of the eighth, Chicago would send veteran reliever Edwin Jackson to the mound. Jackson would be hammered by St. Louis for four runs on four hits to push the deficit to 6-0.
“Coming out of the rain delay we had a tough ninth inning,” said Maddon, “it looks like we had a bad game, but it really wasn’t. We made the one mistake at second base and that was about it. Otherwise it was a tightly contested game.”
What might have come as a bigger surprise to the Cubs faithful than John Lester’s strong pitching performance was his performance at the plate. Following a slow 0-66 start to his career, Lester secured his first Major League hit in the bottom of the second inning. After watching several belt high fastballs from Lackey go whizzing by, Lester coiled back and unloaded on an off speed pitch. His mighty swing delivered a laser back toward the pitcher, which ricocheted toward short, before dying in the infield grass.
“It feels good,” said Lester, “but it’s worthless when you lose the game. It’s been a long time coming, it’s nice, but in the end it’s not something you can really enjoy right now… at the end of day we lost the game.”
Maddon was very complimentary of his starters resolve leading up to his first career hit, saying, “How about it! He doesn’t have a bad swing, he really doesn’t technically. He hit some ball really hard this year with some bad luck. Hopefully it’s going to lead to more hits.”
Chicago will look to rebound tomorrow when they host the Cards of a double header tomorrow at 1:20 CST.
“I am not discouraged whatsoever,” said Maddon, “all I keep saying is, we can play with these guys, now we just got to go out there and prove it.”