Lester's near no-no lifts Cubs over Braves

Lester's near no-no lifts Cubs over Braves

ATLANTA -- Jon Lester got his second half off to a stellar start, flirting with a no-hitter even though neither he nor the 45,758 at Turner Field may have known about it.

The left-hander gave up two hits over 7 1/3 innings on Saturday night in the Cubs' 4-0 victory over the Braves. In the Atlanta first, Lester had served up what was ruled an infield single by Nick Markakis, who reached after hitting a ball that bounced past third baseman Kris Bryant. It was the only hit off Lester heading into the top of the seventh, when official scorer Jack Wilkinson changed the call to an error on Bryant. That meant zero hits.

Markakis' single ruled an error

"That's one of those plays that can go either way," Lester said. "I wasn't surprised to see a hit go up there. I was more surprised that it ended up getting changed."

Lester had thrown 97 pitches, and A.J. Pierzynski then hit a clean single to right off Lester to lead off the eighth. One out later, Andrelton Simmons singled to chase the lefty. Atlanta's Manny Banuelos took the loss, serving up two runs on RBI singles by Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

Castro's RBI single

Home sweet home: Pitching in his offseason hometown, Lester looked right at home. In his last seven starts with the Cubs, he now has given up 10 earned runs over 45 2/3 innings. It was his first win since May 16, ending a string of 10 straight winless outings. He was pulled after serving up a single to Simmons on his 110th pitch of the night. Lester spent the week at his Atlanta area home, fishing with his kids. More >

"It was a good break and now we're back to business," he said.

Lester retires Johnson

Unfortunate eighth: Just one day after Eury Perez had his game-winning hit against the Cubs in the eighth inning, he came close to having another opportunity. Perez was preparing to pinch-hit against Lester with runners on first and second and one out in the eighth, but when Chicago decided to pull Lester in favor of Hector Rondon, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called Perez back and opted to go with the left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson, who flied out to left. Jace Peterson followed up with his third strikeout of the game to end the eighth-inning threat. More >

"I thought Simmons had a nice at-bat to get [runners on] first and second," Gonzalez said. "We had an opportunity, and we didn't capitalize on it."

Kid stuff: In an attempt to get Bryant back on track, Cubs manager Joe Maddon inserted the rookie ahead of Rizzo in the lineup. It worked in the third. With two outs, Bryant singled and reached third on an errant pickoff attempt by Banuelos before scoring on Rizzo's single.

Rizzo's RBI single

Brief Banuelos start: Banuelos lasted only 4 2/3 innings, exiting after walking Chris Denorfia to load the bases. While Banuelos has flashed promise in his short tenure with the Braves this season, the 24-year-old hasn't managed to pitch longer than 5 2/3 innings in four Major League starts. He is on an innings limit after recovering from Tommy John surgery last season.

"Manny was OK. He wasn't as bad as the numbers," Gonzalez said. "The first run he threw the pickoff away and allowed a base hit instead of getting two hits to score that guy. But Manny was OK, he had a lot of deep counts and his pitch count was really way up there."

Banuelos whiffs Russell

"I really thought when [the play] occurred that it could be changed at some point during the game. My reaction was that makes my mindset different. [Lester] could have 120 pitches going into the ninth inning and with the no-hitter, he's going back out there." -- Maddon, on the scoring change giving Lester a no-hit bid

Jason Frasor came on in relief in the top of the fifth for Atlanta. The right-hander is the 51st player used by the Braves this season, a franchise single-season record. Coincidentally, Frasor also wears No. 51 for Atlanta.

Frasor escapes bases-loaded jam

The win snapped the Cubs' eight-game losing streak in Atlanta, which dated back to July 5, 2012.

Rizzo's second RBI single

Cubs: Jake Arrieta will close the Cubs series against the Braves on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. CT. The right-hander is coming off a complete-game victory over the White Sox in the last game of the first half, and is on a roll. He has five straight quality starts, and is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA in that stretch with 34 strikeouts and four walks.

Braves: Atlanta counters with Shelby Miller in a 5:05 p.m. ET start. Miller is looking to bounce back from his worst start of the season before the All-Star break in Coors Field, where he allowed five earned runs. Miller has been the Braves' best starter this season, posting a 2.38 ERA (the eighth-best in baseball) over 113 2/3 innings, but has just a 5-5 record to show for it.

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Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. Carlos Collazo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.