CHICAGO -- When Jon Lester faced the Mets on July 3 in New York, the Cubs' left-hander had the shortest outing of his career, serving up eight runs over 1 1/3 innings. Lester redeemed himself Monday, giving up one run over 7 2/3 innings, to help the Cubs finally beat the Mets.
Anthony Rizzo smacked a three-run homer to back Lester and lift the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Mets in front of 41,353 at Wrigley Field. The celebration may be a little livelier postgame for the Cubs, as the win ended New York's string of eight straight wins over Chicago, which began with a sweep in last October's National League Championship Series and continued with another sweep from June 30-July 3 at Citi Field.
Rookie Steven Matz took the loss, exiting after five-plus innings, and the Mets now have dropped seven of the lefty's last nine starts. Wilmer Flores thwarted Lester's shutout bid with a leadoff homer in the seventh.
"We've got some veteran guys here who have been through wars," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Those guys have got some proven track records. So I hope they're not adding extra pressure because they're thinking, 'I'm the guy that's got to get it done.'"
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Third inning: In the four previous meetings with the Mets this year, the Cubs did not score more than three runs in a game. They matched that in one inning. With one out in the third, Javier Baez singled, his second hit of the game, and Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch to set up Rizzo, who battled Matz in a 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off five straight pitches before he connected. . According to Statcast™, Rizzo's homer was clocked at 106.9 mph and traveled 423 feet. He now has 68 RBIs, most on the Cubs.
"That was a fabulous at-bat -- that's what you're looking for," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We want to be about that kind of two-strike at-bat." More >
Hit hard: Rizzo's homer was hardly the only damage against Matz, who allowed eight hits and four runs over five-plus innings, departing after a leadoff double in the sixth. Many of those hits were well-struck, including five with exit velocities of at least 95.5 mph. Matz's ERA since June 1 ballooned to 5.12, and as a result, the Mets fell to 2-7 over his last nine starts.
"I don't think my command was 100 percent where I want it to be, which could lead to them fouling pitches off, me leaving pitches over the heart of the plate," Matz said. "It could be a mixture of both. It's definitely a good lineup, but I didn't have my command." More >
Super subs: Baez made the most of his second straight start at second base for Ben Zobrist, who was given the time off for his personal All-Star break. Baez had two hits and also made a perfectly timed leap to rob Curtis Granderson of a potential hit leading off the Mets' sixth. Baez wasn't the only sub who came through as Matt Szczur, starting in right for Jason Heyward, posted his first career three-hit game.
"He stays ready," Maddon said of Szczur. "Here's a guy who's been playing sporadically but he's always ready, He's always engaged. There's never a pout. He's a wonderful team player. His football background probably helps with that. They understand the team concept."
Natural left fielder: Shifting to left field on a quasi-permanent basis to ease pressure off his sore right quadriceps, Yoenis Cespedes saved Matz an additional run in the third inning with a rocket throw home. After Rizzo's homer, Willson Contreras hit a ground-rule double into the ivy on the left-field wall, then tried to score on Matt Szczur's single. But Cespedes' throw covered 206.7 feet, according to Statcast™, beating Contreras home by several steps. Cespedes later committed a two-base fielding error in the eighth inning, allowing Albert Almora Jr.'s RBI single to roll all the way to the fence.
"I would say he's probably being cautious a little bit," Collins said.
"He's got that level of ability offensively, defensively, driving in runs -- he's the anchor of the group. … A lot of the other guys grab attention, and Anthony just keeps doing what he does. He's almost like old news because he's 26 going on 27. But this guy is the anchor of the group." -- Maddon, on Rizzo
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: Following an 11-day layoff to rest his tired right arm, Noah Syndergaard will return to the mound for a 7:05 p.m. ET game at Wrigley. Syndergaard has not pitched since coming out of his last start in the fifth inning due to arm fatigue, which prompted him to skip the All-Star Game as well.
Cubs:Jake Arrieta makes his first start of the second half in the second game of this three-game series. The right-hander gave up a season-high six runs on nine hits over six innings in his last outing against the Pirates July 8. He said the All-Star break helped him reset and recharge. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.