Lester puts big-game pedigree on display

Lester puts big-game pedigree on display

PITTSBURGH -- Jon Lester had thrown 105 pitches over eight innings Tuesday, and was due to lead off in the ninth. The Cubs' lead was just one run and Lester isn't much of a threat at the plate, so he figured he'd be lifted for a pinch-hitter. But nobody said anything to the left-hander.

"I was standing there, looking around, seeing what Joe [Maddon] was doing and nobody moved," Lester said after going the distance in Chicago's 2-1 win in the nightcap of a doubleheader vs. the Pirates. "I grabbed my stuff and walked out there [to the on-deck circle]. I figured they'd grab me if they didn't want me out there. I was happy to get the chance to finish it off."

Lester finished what he started, striking out nine in his first complete game of the season and 12th of his career to help the Cubs split the doubleheader at PNC Park.

"I loved his last at-bat," Maddon said. "His last at-bat indicated to me that he was frisky."

The Pirates helped Lester in the ninth as both Andrew McCutchen and Aramis Ramirez swung at the first pitch they saw, and both were retired.

Cubs catch Marte stealing

"I wasn't expecting Aramis to be swinging, especially after McCutchen swings at the first pitch," Lester said. "Thank you. I know what they're capable of. They're trying to get a good pitch and do some damage with it and tie the game."

In the game, Lester scattered five hits and punctuated the end of the seventh and eighth innings with key strikeouts. The Pirates and Cubs are battling for playoff spots, and as of now are ranked 1-2 in the National League Wild Card standings. This was a big win for Chicago, which trails Pittsburgh by four games for the top spot.

"This is what he does," Maddon said of Lester. "He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It's not a surprise."

What might have surprised some was Lester's throw to first in the third to get Starling Marte, who was caught stealing. Lester's difficulties throwing have been well-documented.

"I got the play done," Lester said. "That's all that matters to me."

Tuesday was win No. 10 of the season, and there wasn't much more significance for the lefty.

"When I signed here, I envisioned winning a World Series, not playing September baseball," Lester said. "Hopefully, we can get to that point."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.