CHICAGO -- Jon Lester struck out a season-high 14 batters across eight innings as the Cubs defeated the Rockies on Wednesday, 3-2, to take two of three games in the series at Wrigley Field. Lester became the first Cubs pitcher since Mark Prior in 2004 to throw 14 strikeouts, helping Chicago improve to two games above .500 in July.
Lester finished one strikeout shy of his career high, with at least one K in every inning, including six straight early on. He allowed five hits and one walk in his two-run performance to pick up just his sixth win of the season.
"That was his best performance all year," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "Just stuff-wise, I thought he had everything going on. … Everything was on and that's why you saw the result you did."
Carlos Gonzalez hit his 21st homer of the season in the seventh inning for the Rockies, who also scored once in the fourth on a Nolan Arenado sacrifice fly. It was the Rockies' lowest scoring output of the series, and they finished with a total of 17 runs in the three-game set.
Eddie Butler took the loss for Colorado in his second start since June 5. He allowed five hits and three walks in five innings and struck out four batters, but fell into an early hole after he gave up two home runs. Butler battled command issues, as the leadoff hitter reached in every inning.
"He got himself into some trouble but got big outs," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He threw the ball well. The home run by Anthony Rizzo got some help. The ball was going to right field today. But [Butler] did a nice job."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Off with a bang: After they struggled to generate offense early in recent games, the Cubs started Wednesday with an immediate jolt. Dexter Fowler led off the first inning with a home run -- his 10th of the season -- on the fourth pitch he saw. Rizzo then launched his 17th home run of the season off the right-field foul pole -- a two-run shot -- in the third inning.
First impressions: After a decade of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, it was jarring to see Jose Reyes -- a star in his own right -- at the position, after coming to the Rockies in a swap with the Blue Jays. Reyes, batting second, singled in his first at-bat, but was caught stealing by Cubs catcher David Ross. Reyes walked and was part of a double-steal with leadoff man Charlie Blackmon in the fourth. More >
"He's exciting to watch -- he brings an element that we were lacking, the speed," Weiss said. "He's a high-energy guy. He was on base a couple of times, in the middle of some things."
Heating up: Despite struggling early in the season, Lester has found his rhythm in the month of July. Wednesday marked the sixth straight game he has pitched at least seven innings -- all in July -- and the third double-digit strikeout game of his season. He became the only Cubs left-hander since 1914 to throw 14 strikeouts. He did his part with the bat, too. Lester finished with three sacrifice bunts at the plate despite having never hit a sacrifice bunt in his career.
"[My performance] was consistent," Lester said. "That's important to me, just being consistent through the game with all four [pitches]. I could go to each one at different times, depending on the hitter, and that was nice."
Can't cool CarGo: Gonzalez interrupted Lester's dominance with his eighth homer in the last seven games, on a line drive to center with one out in the seventh.Still, Gonzalez marveled at Lester.
"Man, he was dealing," Gonzalez said. "He had all his pitches working. He was painting, not making mistakes. Even the home run I hit, I don't think it was a mistake. It was a great pitch -- down and away, but it was my third at-bat and I was kind of waiting."
"The pitch to Dexter should have been hit out. The one to Rizzo, I thought it was a pop fly but it barely gets out, hits the foul pole, and that's the difference in the game. I was already walking off, going toward the dugout. But as I'm walking off, watching CarGo, I see him keep going back and he hits the track and looks up. I'm like, 'There's no way.' -- Butler, on the home runs that marred his effort
"They are definitely hitting the ball more firmly. The thing about our guys is that we've lost so many balls to the wind. I mean, if the wind wants to help us out every once in a while, I'll take it, because this is the biggest ballpark I've ever seen in my life." -- Maddon, on his team's fly balls falling short of home runs because of the wind.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Fowler has now reached base safely in 13 straight games after finishing with two walks and his home run. He's hit safely in 10 of those games with 15 total walks since July 12, breaking out of a slump in which he had nine hits and five walks in 17 games.
"He's taking his walks," Maddon said. "When you're walking, you're hitting. I tell guys that all the time. Guys that are walking have a finite strike zone, and once you get to that particular moment, then you can do some damage when you see a pitch you like."
FUN WHILE IT LASTED
Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to see his career-best hitting streak end at 18 games.
WHAT'S NEXT Rockies: Lefty Chris Rusin (3-4, 4.13 ERA) has pitched well but lately has run into bad luck. He hasn't won since June 21 against the Brewers. He'll try for a reversal against the Cardinals and hot right-hander Carlos Martinez (11-4, 2.34 ERA) at Busch Stadium on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. MT.
Cubs: The Cubs begin a seven-game road trip with a four-game series against Milwaukee on Thursday. They have dropped four of six games to the Brewers already this season. Righty Jake Arrieta takes the mound for Chicago, looking for his eighth straight quality start and sixth win in as many tries. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT.