Jon Lester broke an 0-for-66 streak for his first big-league hit — and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning — and still wound up screaming and cursing at himself while walking off the mound.
The St. Louis Cardinals will do that to you.
The Lester signing is supposed to help change the culture around the Cubs — and eventually reset this lopsided rivalry with the Cardinals — because the big-game lefty beat St. Louis twice in the 2013 World Series and won two championship rings with the Boston Red Sox.
But Monday night’s 6-0 loss at Wrigley Field had a familiar feeling and a seen-that-before ending. The Cubs have now won only two of their 10 games against the Cardinals this season, falling to 9.5 games back in the National League Central.
“Worthless” is how Lester described that infield single off John Lackey when a reporter tried to toss him a softball to begin his postgame news conference.
Lester threw a no-hitter with the Red Sox in 2008, but this chance to make history vanished with one out in the seventh inning. Jhonny Peralta smashed a ball that bounced off Kris Bryant’s left arm as the third baseman tried to make a backhanded play. It rolled away for an infield single.
Two pitches later, Bryant — who found out that he made the National League All-Star team a little more than an hour before the game — made a wild throw to second base on a potential double play.
The Cardinals (54-28) are the best team in baseball because they capitalize on mistakes like that. Yadier Molina’s sacrifice fly and Kolten Wong’s RBI single quickly made it 2-0.
“They’re a veteran team,” Lester said. “They do everything right. They make the plays when they’re in front of them. They have timely hitting. They understand it takes nine innings to win a baseball game.
“We’re close. We got a bunch of young guys that are just trying to — I don’t want to say survive — because they’re beyond that point. They’re too good to survive. They’re here for a long time.
“But when you’re used to winning, you understand how to win. And that will take some time here.”
It got ugly after a rain delay that lasted one hour and 16 minutes in the middle of the eighth inning — and Edwin Jackson’s four-run ninth. But Lester left a 2-0 game after only giving up those two hits while throwing to Miguel Montero with personal catcher David Ross (concussion) on the disabled list.
After 81 games, the Cubs are 44-37 and in a wild-card position, even without Lester coming close to adding a fourth All-Star selection to his resume.
Halfway through the first season of a six-year, $155 megadeal, Lester just about delivered what the Cubs should have reasonably expected: 3.48 ERA, 101 strikeouts through 103.1 innings and a no-nonsense attitude in the clubhouse.
But Lester also has a losing record (4-7) and dramatically different month-to-month splits: bad April (6.23 ERA); good May (1.76 ERA); bad June (5.74 ERA); and what the Cubs hope will be a lights-out second half (zero earned runs in two July starts).
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“You judge a starting pitcher on wins and losses,” Lester said, “and I’m not doing my job right now. Hopefully, that evens out at the end of the year.”
When the Cubs made their face-to-face recruiting pitch to Lester last November, they showed what his .000 average would look like on the video board at a renovated Wrigley Field.
Lester finally notched his first hit in the majors with a line drive that ricocheted off Lackey’s leg for an infield single in the second inning. Lester and Lackey are good friends from their time together in Boston.
The crowd of 37,609 loudly cheered Lester, who stood at first base and showed his sense of humor by pointing to the sky with both index fingers.
“Just kind of making light of it,” Lester said. “I know ‘Lack.’ I’ve played a long time with him. We had some bets going into the game and all that — a little trash talking involved. It’s been a long time coming. It’s nice, but at the same time, it’s something that you can’t really enjoy right now.
“You lose the game, it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we lost the game, so that’s the storyline.”