Cubs

Jon Lester survives line drive, looks like a Game 1 starter as Cubs top Reds

Jon Lester survives line drive, looks like a Game 1 starter as Cubs top Reds

Jon Lester views himself as a finisher, someone who gets stronger later in the season, when the games become bigger and bigger. That’s why the $155 million pitcher came to Chicago — to earn a third World Series ring and change this team’s entire identity.

That’s why Cubs fans might have seen their playoff hopes flash before their eyes when Joey Votto smashed a line drive that drilled Lester’s wrist as he tried to make the glove save, the ball ricocheting into shallow right field.

“It’s fine,” Lester said as soon as he sat down in the Wrigley Field interview room after Tuesday night’s 6-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “My right hand. I don’t need it.”

The lefty stayed in the game, faced seven more Reds after that scare leading off the sixth inning and finished the seventh, making a strong closing argument for the National League Cy Young Award voters and looking like the Game 1 starter when the Cubs face the wild-card survivor on Oct. 7.

This is a battle of attrition. The New York Mets are paying the price for last year’s World Series run, with Jacob deGrom (right elbow) scheduled for season-ending surgery, something Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome) already went through this summer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are managing the herniated disc in Clayton Kershaw’s back and dealing with the blister on Rich Hill’s left middle finger. The Washington Nationals don’t know when Stephen Strasburg will return or if his right elbow will allow him to honor the seven-year, $175 million extension he signed four-plus months ago.

This much is clear: Washington’s 1-0 loss to the Miami Marlins combined with Lester’s dominant performance made three the magic number for the Cubs (96-55) to clinch the league’s best record and home-field advantage through their first two playoff rounds.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Jon Lester jersey right here]

“If I’m chosen for Game 1, awesome, it will be a great honor,” Lester said. “If I’m not, it’s still a great honor to pitch in the postseason for this team.”

Lester leads the NL with 18 wins and ranks first in the majors with 25 quality starts. His ERA is now 2.36 after his seventh straight start allowing zero runs or one run. He’s peaking at the right time — 9-0 with a 1.46 ERA through 12 starts since the All-Star break — and one of the most accomplished postseason pitchers of his generation.

“I’m along for the ride,” Lester said. “We have a really, really good staff, so if I’m the guy, it will definitely be a huge honor.

“If I’m not the guy, tell me when I’m going. I’ll be there. I’ll be ready. I’ll be prepared. I’ll give you everything I got.

“But obviously it would be nice to start a home game here, whether it’s (Game 1 or 2). This atmosphere’s been great all year. It’s been a playoff kind of atmosphere all year. They’ve expected a lot of us. We’ve given them a lot. And they give us a lot in return, as far as energy.”

The Cubs placed a huge bet on durability, and Lester has now made 30 starts for the ninth consecutive season. With two more starts to go, he’s only nine innings away from hitting 200 for the eighth time in his career. The Cubs also wanted someone who wouldn’t be satisfied with a division title or allow teammates to become complacent.

“I don’t care what the lead is,” Lester said. “My mentality’s the same going into every start: I want to win every start. I don’t take days off when it comes to that.

“When it’s my day to go, it’s my day to go. I’m going to show up with the same intensity as if it was Game 1 or if we’re fighting for a playoff spot right now. I feel like if I let off the gas mentally, then I’m doing a disservice to my team.”

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

Siera Santos, Kelly Crull, and David DeJesus go into the audio archives to break down the biggest games for the Cubs in Cincinnati.

David DeJesus gives us his top 3 ballgames with such gems as The Schwarber Game, The Kris Bryant Game, Starlin Castro’s debut, and Jake Arrieta’s second no hitter.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: