“Hello, stranger, it seems so good to see you back again.
How long has it been? It seems like a mighty long time.” – Yvonne Elliman, Hello Stranger
When Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Javier Báez and Kyle Schwarber all go yard in the same game, it’s almost a guarantee the Cubs will win, even if one of those players happens to now be a frenemy. Such was the case yesterday evening, when the Cub spoiled the homecoming of Schwarber and Jon Lester with a 7-3 win over the Nationals.
The cheers for the lefty started well before game time and Lester received three standing ovations during the game itself: one when he took the mound, one when he batted for the first time, and one when he was removed by Washington manager Davey Martinez.
After already receiving a standing ovation when he took the mound, Jon Lester gets another ovation from the fans at Wrigley as he makes his first plate appearance. pic.twitter.com/qzFl45sgW4
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) May 18, 2021
All-around good guy Anthony Rizzo even wore a Lester Cubs jersey as he entered the park prior to the game, though the pleasantries ended when Lester grounded out to the first baseman in the 3rd inning. The former Cubs ace showed his emotions throughout the game, including during his signature walk back to the dugout once he was pulled. He hadn’t allowed a homer in three previous starts, but the Cubs hit three home runs and scored five runs off Lester in 5.1 innings.
“At this point in my career, you try to soak in as much as you can with a lot of different things,” Lester said after the game. “But at the same time, you have to kind of walk that line trying to win the baseball game and soak it in. It was awesome, a nice atmosphere here.”
While there’s no doubt it was Lester’s evening, Schwarber likewise received a lot of love from Cubs fans until he walloped a two-run blast off of Adbert Alzolay in the 4th inning. Cubs fans mockingly booed the hulking outfielder and the fan who retrieved the home run ball threw it back. Schwarber sounded like he had hoped to leave a lasting impression.
“Obviously you want to finish your tenure with the team, and from there, whatever happens, happens,” Schwarber said. “But it’s not a hate thing or anything like that. It’s more of just going out there and proving something to yourself.”
- The Good: Heyward had a multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI.
- The Better: Every Cubs starter had at least one hit except Alzolay, as the Cubs offense continued its impressive rebound after a dismal start to the season.
- The Bad: Alzolay wasn’t on, and got away with a couple of meatball sliders and sinkers, but did enough to win despite giving up home runs to Schwarber and Trea Turner.
- The Ugly: David Bote pinch-hit for Alzolay in the 5th, went down on a called third strike, and looked totally unprepared for Lester’s off-speed arsenal. His .536 OPS didn’t seem enough of an edge to remove Alzolay after just 63 pitches. At some point, David Ross is going to have to let the rookie pitcher face a lineup for a third time.
Cubs News & Notes
- Monday’s win got the inconsistent Cubs back to .500 for the eighth time in seven weeks.
- The Cubs aired a pregame video tribute to Schwarber, after which Ross presented him with a No. 12 from the Wrigley scoreboard. The team will play a tribute for Lester before Tuesday’s game.
- Schwarber was anxious and obviously excited to see fans back at Wrigley Field.
- Lester credited Ross with helping him make the transition from marquee free agent signing to plain old top of rotation starter back in 2015 when the big lefty was trying to prove he was worth the contract he signed. “I remember the pressure he put on himself to live up to the contract early on,” Ross said. “He just wasn’t himself coming out of spring, trying to do so much.”
- Ross believes Lester is owed a more fitting tribute once Wrigley Field can host full capacity crowds.
- Matt Duffy has been a godsend of sorts, appears to be the team’s regular third baseman, and is also the league’s most disciplined hitter.
- Duffy has made enough starts at the hot corner that Baseball Reference now lists Kris Bryant as a utility player. Bryant hasn’t played third base since mid-April. Who knew KB would be the replacement for Ben Zobrist the Cubs have sought since 2018?
- Lifelong Cubs’ fan Jeremiah Paprocki has landed the gig as Wrigley Field’s new new PA announcer.
- How would you feel about a trade that sent Rizzo and Contreras to the Yankees for Gary Sánchez and prospect Luis Gil? Seems a little light to me.
- Monday was the first of four games with the upper level of the center field bleachers designated for vaccinated fans only, with full capacity and no social distancing. The 11,144 total fans in attendance is a season-high.
- The Cubs also removed those unsightly bleacher banners before yesterday’s game.
- Zach Davies takes the bump tonight for the Cubs. In four career starts against the Nationals, he’s 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched.
Climbing the Ladder
“I’ve been first and last, look at how the time goes past. But I’m all alone at last, rolling home to you.” – Neil Young, Old Man
- Games Played: 40
- Total Plate Appearances: 1,501
- Total Strikeouts: 392
- Strikeout Rate: 26.1%
- Team Batting Average: .234
Knowing Lester’s tendencies certainly helped the Cubs last night as they banged out 12 hits in 34 PAs, including the three taters.
Odds & Sods
You could have easily predicted a Schwarber home run before yesterday’s game.
OF COURSE KYLE SCHWARBER HOMERS IN HIS + JON LESTER'S RETURN TO WRIGLEY
Schwarber homered in 23 of Lester's starts while they were on the Cubs together, including the postseason
He's now done that in 2 of Lester's starts this season, incl. tonight
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 18, 2021
How About That!
Graphic video alert: Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar was horrifyingly hit in the nose by a pitch from Braves reliever Jacob Webb, but later tweeted that he’s doing well. In fact, Webb seemed more shaken by the incident than Pillar.
Players and coaches leaguewide agreed it was a clean play, which should end any argument to the contrary.
Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune has some ideas on how to improve pace of play and make the game more interesting.
The White Sox continue to roll. They smoked the Twins 16-4 last night thanks to a grand slam by Danny Mendick and the first career home run by Nick Madrigal. Chicago increased it’s AL Central lead to 3.5 games over the Indians, who lost 7-4 in Anaheim.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The Astros announced they will go to full capacity at Minute Maid Park one week from today when Houston returns from its current road trip to host the Dodgers.
Fenway Park has been cleared for full capacity beginning May 29.
A’s team officials intend to tour Las Vegas next week to explore potentially moving the team to southern Nevada.
Monday’s Three Stars
Did baseball really exist outside of Wrigley Field last night? I can neither confirm nor deny that.
Is it just me, or does Nico Hoerner make the Cubs’ defense look 100 times better?
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) May 18, 2021
Out of Left Field
“Cubs convention. That’s a whole other crackerjacks in of itself. I’ve never seen anything like that…” – Jon Lester
They Said It
- “Didn’t really settle down until maybe the second inning, third inning, as far as all that stuff, It’s just different, man. You’re pitching against your buddies. You’re pitching against guys that you’ve grinded with for a lot of years.” – Lester
- “Our friendship creates a lot of conflict in my heart for sure. He’s got enough stats that will carry him throughout his life. I’m not worried about his career stats today. Today, we’re out to beat him. I’ll have a beer with him at some point for sure. But today, we’ll try to keep him at 193 and wish him the best after today.” – David Ross
- “He’s a big reason why this franchise turned into a winning franchise. … That reason is because of Jon Lester and how he changed the culture.” – Anthony Rizzo
- “I was like, ‘They threw it back?’ Definitely keep that as a keepsake, definitely a special moment here for myself just being able to get a hit in that moment.” – Kyle Schwarber
Tuesday Walk Up Song
Everglow by Coldplay – A fitting tribute to the former Cubs’ heroes, even with the magnificent speech by Muhammad Ali at the end of the song.