Lester strong, Happ homers as Cubs top Pirates
Jon Lester wasn’t overly excited about winning for the first time in just over a month.
However, Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn’t have been happier with his performance.
Lester pitched six innings and Ian Happ homered as the Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 on Thursday night.
Lester (13-5) allowed five hits, struck out eight and had no walks while improving to 3-1 against the Pirates this season. His previous victory came July 15 at San Diego and he had gone 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break.
“This isn’t going to be like we figured out everything and I’m going to throw six scoreless [innings] every time I step out there,” Lester said. “It’s a step in the right direction, though.”
Maddon was glad to have his ace find his form.
“He’s a world-class kind of athlete and they want to be that way all the time,” Maddon said. “When you get away from it, it’s disturbing and you’re always looking for answers. I know he’ll rest better and this is absolutely a game to build off because he executed well. Everything was there tonight.”
Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop each pitched one inning to complete the six-hitter. Strop hit David Freese with a pitch with two outs in the ninth but converted his 10th save in 13 opportunities.
Happ connected with one out in the fourth inning off Ivan Nova (7-7) for his 13th home run, a drive deep into the right-center seats that was the game’s only extra-base hit. There was a fair share of cheers while Happ rounded the bases as he is from suburban Mount Lebanon, Pa.
Chicago (70-50) increased its lead in the NL Central to 31/2 games over idle Milwaukee while moving a season-high 20 games over .500. Pittsburgh (61-61) lost its fourth straight to fall to .500.
Nova took his first loss since July 3 despite giving up only one run in 62/3 innings.
The Pirates’ best scoring opportunity came in the fifth inning when Josh Harrison and Adeiny Hechavarria hit consecutive two-out singles. Lester then struck out Nova, an .044 career hitter.