So I described Cole Hamels last start as a pitchers' duel. The final score ended up 4-3 in that one as the bullpen gave up 7 runs late, and so it didn't feel quite the same as today's game did. The final total was 13 singles and a single walk between the two teams. The 12 of the 13 hits were singles. The difference in the game was a fourth inning solo home run from Ian Happ.
Wins are important. The Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead in the division. The Cardinals fell further behind with a loss to the Nationals. The Cubs now hold a 5 game edge over the longtime nemesis. However, Jon Lester looked like second half Jon Lester again. Lester would only throw 6 innings, but they were even more impressive than the scoreless frames indicate. Lester punched out a tied for season high 8 batters. The Pirates also beat the ball into the ground frequently when they did make contact. The Buccos could only string together 5 singles against the southpaw.
The defense also was a positive factor once again. One of those five hits was erased on an almost always smooth double play. Willson Contreras and Javier Báez combined on an old-school pitch out for another out. Starling Marte tried to steal with two outs in the sixth inning. Báez managed to top himself with a simple but laser quick tag to get the unchallenged call for the final out.
The Cubs bats weren't highly productive today against Ivan Nova. The only Cubs that managed to reach base twice were Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras. There were a lot of 1 for 4s up and down the lineup, but the important one was Ian Happ's coming with 1 HR and 1 RBI tacked onto the statline.
Steve Cishek was the first Cubs reliever called upon. Lester was pulled with his spot taken down for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Maddon might not have let Lester go another inning even if his spot wasn't due up, but that was all the incentive the Cubs skipper needed. Josh Bell managed to sneak a groundball single through the right side. Josh Harrison lined out to Báez to end the inning.
Carl Edwards Jr. pitched a ho-hum boring clean eighth inning. That is perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to a reliever. Pedro Strop proved to be the Cubs finisher once again. He struck out the first two Pirates batters with ease. However, David Freese got in the way of a Pedro Strop pitch. That prompted a meeting on the mound ahead of the Pirates final hope Elías Díaz to the plate. Díaz hit a groundball right to Rizzo to end the game with the slimmest of margins.
The Cubs have won a couple of games in a row. That means that new Cubs ace or lightning in a bottle Cole Hamels has a chance to start a Cubs winning streak.