CHICAGO -- Bryce Harper belted his National League-leading 18th home run and Max Scherzer outdueled Jon Lester on Wednesday night to lead the Nationals to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs and a series win.
Scherzer struck out 13, two shy of his career best, and scattered five hits over seven innings for the win, while Lester fanned 10 over seven innings and took his first loss in six May starts. This was the fourth meeting between the two pitchers; Scherzer now leads, 3-1.
"Max threw the ball just a little bit better than I did," Lester said. "Obviously, we lost, and that's not the ultimate goal, but if you're a pitcher or just a purist of the game and like watching pitching matchups, that was fun tonight. That's what it lived up to be."
Harper, who hit 13 home runs last season, notched his second in as many games leading off the sixth. In the battle between the two Las Vegas kids, Harper and the Cubs' Kris Bryant -- who played together in youth leagues -- each finished with two home runs in the three-game series. They'll meet again next week in Washington.
"I've seen a lot of great hitters, played with some really, really good ones, and the best ones are able to go opposite field with power," Scherzer said of Harper. "And we're starting to see that from him."
With the win, Washington avoided losing consecutive games for the first time since a season-high six-game losing skid from April 22-27.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Start me up: Lester's personal five-game winning streak was snapped with the loss. He now has given up eight earned runs over 41 innings for a 1.76 ERA in six May starts. He got into trouble in the fourth and needed 34 pitches to get through the inning.
"I made one mistake," Lester said of Harper's home run. "When you're going against a guy like [Scherzer], you can't make any." More >
Bombs away: Harper homered for a second straight game the opposite way, to left field. Whereas Tuesday's homer was a fly ball aided by the wind, Wednesday's was a majestic, high blast leading off the sixth that probably would have gone out just about any day at Wrigley Field. His 13 May home runs are the most in a single month in Nationals history. Alfonso Soriano held the club record of 12, set in May 2006.
"I'm pretty sure it was a cutter," Harper said. "He just left it over the plate, a 2-1 cutter. I just squared it up." More >
Can't assume double play: The Cubs' infield defense was superb for much of the series, but the Nationals took advantage of a rare mistake in the fourth inning to grab a one-run lead. With runners on first and second and none out, Ryan Zimmerman hit a bouncer to shortstop that should have been an easy double play. Instead, the throw from second baseman Addison Russell was in the dirt and got past first baseman Anthony Rizzo, allowing Yunel Escobar to score an unearned run. More >
"The takeaway is, we can play with these guys. I feel very confident about that moving forward. Entertaining baseball at Wrigley Field for the last three days." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon, on playing the National League East leaders
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When Lester flied out to center fielder Denard Span in the second inning, it extended his regular-season hitless streak to 0-for-58, which is a Major League record. Joey Hamilton held the old mark, 0-for-57, set in 1994-95. Lester, who went 0-for-2 in the game and now is 0-for-59 lifetime, also is hitless in five postseason at-bats.
Lester and Scherzer combined for 23 strikeouts. The last time a Cubs game featured starting pitchers with 10 or more strikeouts was on April 15, 2007, when Ted Lilly fanned 10 and Kyle Lohse struck out 12 for the Reds.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Following a day off on Thursday, the Nats open a three-game series at Cincinnati on Friday, with first pitch at 7:10 p.m. ET. Stephen Strasburg (3-5, 6.50 ERA) will be looking to end the month on a positive note after going 1-3 with a 10.20 ERA so far in May.
Cubs: After an off-day on Thursday, the Cubs will play host to the Royals in their first Interleague series of the season. Jake Arrieta gets the start on Friday. He faced the Royals while pitching for the Orioles, and has a 2-0 record and 3.12 ERA in three starts. The Cubs were 9-11 in Interleague Play last season. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.
John Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com. Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.