The last time we saw Jon Lester in a Cubs uniform, he was motioning to the third-base dugout at Wrigley Field for the trainer.
Lester walked off the mound on Aug. 17 after only five outs, surrendering nine runs (seven earned) on seven hits and a walk to the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs ace was put on the disabled list the next day with a strained lat/left shoulder.
He returned the field Saturday for the first time since that outing and he picked up where he left off, though the end result was a mixed bag.
The good news: Lester threw 92 pitches, his velocity was normal and he reported no discomfort afterwards. He also picked up his ninth win of the season.
The bad news: He gave up eight hits — including three homers — and four runs in five innings, raising his season ERA to 4.46 and WHIP to 1.29.
But of course, the Cubs won the game 14-12 and Lester's health is the most important footnote beyond that, so generally speaking, good news won in a landslide in Cubdom.
All said and done, this is the best case scenario after Lester beckoned to the Cubs trainer two weeks ago.
"Physically, felt good," Lester said. "Felt fine. No restrictions. Told our trainer — he asked about limitations and all that stuff and I was basically like, 'Hey, we're gonna find out in the first inning whether or not I'm gonna blow out or we're gonna keep riding this through.'
"Found out that everything's fine. Felt good, the ball was coming out pretty well. Maybe a couple pitch selections back, but we won the game, so we're all good. Moving in the right direction."
Before anybody freaks out, Lester confirmed he was kidding about the conversation with the trainer. He was never actually worried about his arm blowing out.
"No [question in my mind]. I wouldn't go out there if there was," Lester said. "I was more or less just kidding around with [the trainer]. First and foremost, we're kind of our own teams at times. I'm not gonna jeopardize my shoulder if it's not right.
"We're all hardheaded and badasses, but at the same time, I'm not gonna run out there and jeopardize anythig. I was just trying to make light of the situation with him. Everything felt good. It was good to get back out there."
The Cubs have now won six games in a row and a season-high 15 games over .500. They will wake up Sunday morning at least 3.5 games up on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and seven games up on the St. Louis Cardinals, who dropped a heartbreaker in San Francisco Saturday afternoon.
The boost of Lester's return also allows the Cubs to roll with six starters for at least one turn through the rotation as the postseason draws near.
"It was great. Absolutely great," Maddon said of Lester's return. "It wasn't perfect today in any way. The home runs just popped up, but that's just a matter of him locating the ball better, which I think will happen as he gets back in there.
"But stuff-wise, it was really, really good physically. Fastball, cutter break, changeup. He just wasn't locating and then that last inning, everything came together. I talked to him in the dugout after the fourth and he said, "I. Feel. Great.' So I said, "OK, you're going back out there for the fifth.'"