Jon Lester lives up to 'ace' status as Cubs keep on rolling


Jon Lester lives up to 'ace' status as Cubs keep on rolling

This may start to feel like a dream for Cubs fans.

The Cubs are on a six-game winning streak, Jon Lester suddenly looks like a $155 million ace again, the bleachers are open again and Wrigleyville is rocking as the weather heats up.

What more could Cubs fans ask for?

Lester hurled seven strong innings Saturday as the Cubs took down the Pirates 4-1 in front of 38,883 fans at Wrigley Field, the largest crowd of the season to date.

[MORE: Cubs' Joe Maddon: The world revolves around confidence]

Lester worked around nine hits and one walk in his seven innings, allowing just one run on 110 pitches.

"Jonny was fabulous and that permitted everything to work for us today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Lester racked up seven strikeouts, including catching Andrew McCutchen looking to end the seventh with two men on base, prompting a loud scream and fist-pump from Lester as he strutted off the field.

"That was a huge turning point in the game right there," Lester said. "They got a little momentum, some infield hits. To get out of there unscathed is huge. Especially in that tight game. We had a lot of baserunners today, but we were able to make pitches when we needed to.

"It's a big win for us to continue this little streak we're on."

Lester got ahead of McCutchen 0-2 immediately, but had to call time during the at-bat as he dealt with a cramp.

Maddon and a Cubs trainer went out to talk to Lester and with sweat dripping off his hat on a hot, humid day, Lester convinced Maddon to keep him in to finish off the Pirates star.

"I went out there and he calmly looked at me and said 'I'm fine.' There was no 'maybe,'" Maddon said. "That's very cool. He wanted it."

This is why the Cubs signed Lester. His ace mentality came through on a day when the Cubs were extremely short-handed in the bullpen, the wind was blowing out and a good divisional opponent was in town, looking to atone for Friday's failed comeback.

"He's done it before and he knows what it takes to be [an ace]," Maddon said. "He made really good pitches and that's what it takes. Everybody's talking about the wind, but if you make good pitches, you could still survive the wind blowing out and that's what he did today."

The Cubs did not record an RBI hit on the day, instead providing productive outs to get runners home.

Starlin Castro drove in the first two runs with a sacrifice fly in the first inning off Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole. Castro came through again with an RBI groundout in the third.

Addison Russell walked with one out in the seventh, stole second, advanced to third on an error by catcher Chris Stewart and scored on a wild pitch. Anthony Rizzo drove home the fourth run later in the inning with a sacrifice fly to left field.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Kris Bryant collected two singles, walked twice and scored a pair of runs to lead the offense.

"We're having a lot of fun with this and hopefully we can keep it going," Bryant said.

After Lester was pulled, the Cubs escaped a jam in the eighth inning when the first two Pirates hitters singled and doubled, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. But Phil Coke and Jason Motte came up big combining to induce a groundout to the pitcher, a strikeout and then a lazy fly ball to right field to end the threat.

Travis Wood pitched the ninth to pick up the first save of his career.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: