January 27, 2021

Cubs rout Pirates; Jon Lester leaves home opener with injury

It nearly was a perfect day Monday for the Cubs’ Wrigley Field opener.

Fans and players accustomed to parka weather in early April were treated to a 65-degree afternoon and bright sunshine. The Cubs did their part with a 10-0 pounding of the Pittsburgh Pirates, brightening things up considerably after a dreary 2-7 road trip to start the season.

The only rain on the victory parade came when ace pitcher Jon Lester had to leave his start in the top of the third inning because of a hamstring injury he suffered running the bases in the bottom of the second, when the Cubs scored six unearned runs to take a 6-0 lead.

Lester hustled to second base to get a double in the second. He also charged around the bases and slid into home plate while scoring on Ben Zobrist’s two-run single.

After going out for the third inning, Lester gave up a single to pinch hitter Steven Brault. Manager Joe Maddon and athletic trainer PJ Mainville came out to check on Lester after he went 2-0 on Adam Frazier. Lester stayed in, but he was done after Frazier singled, with Brad Brach coming on in relief.

The Cubs said Lester had tightness in his left hamstring. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. It’s possible he could miss his next start Sunday against the Angels, but he’s not hearing of that just yet.

“Rounding third, running,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything on the slide … As of now, I’m making my next start. In my mind, I’m making my next start. Tomorrow may tell us something different. We’ll reevaluate, but I don’t think it’s as bad … everybody on the training side always thinks the worst-case scenario. I don’t feel that way.”

Lester has two of the Cubs’ three quality starts this season, and he struck out four in his two innings Monday.

“I felt great,” he said. “I had really good stuff. I felt we had a really good plan coming in. And we were able to do those things we wanted to do coming into today.

Maddon took it a step further.

“That was the best he’s thrown all year,” the manager said. “He was on the verge of really turning something in good today. He was up to 92-93 [mph]. Great carry on the fastball. The cutter was good. You could tell by just watching him he had great confidence out there. He was on the verge of really getting hot, I thought, just from watching him today.”

The Cubs’ offense has been hot in the early going, scoring at least 10 runs in five of their first 10 games. They benefited from three errors by Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman in the second inning after pitcher Jameson Taillon got two quick outs to start the inning.

Taillon, too, came out of the game early. During the Cubs’ six-run outburst, he was hit on the side of the head by Anthony Rizzo’s liner, which went for a single to center. Taillon, who told the Pittsburgh media the ball hit him flush, finished the inning but came out for Brault, who batted for him and stayed in to pitch.

Brach got the win for the Cubs, whose bullpen has not allowed a run in its last 12 innings after a rough start to the season.

“I think this situation helped with the nerves because I didn’t have a chance to think about it,” Brach said.

Even though they’re only 3-7, the Cubs were feeling good about things after the rough road trip. The day was beautiful, and the crowd of 40,692 was supportive from the get-go.

“It was an awesome day,” Lester said. “Obviously, the weather. I don’t think anything could have gone any better, other than me only going two innings. I think the biggest thing for us is it’s good to be home. It feels good to be here.”