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Lester does it all as Cubs thump Pirates, 10-4.

Byline: Bruce Miles bmiles@dailyherald.com

We'll go right ahead and say it here: Jon Lester is the best free-agent signing in the history of the Chicago Cubs.

That's no disrespect to Andre Dawson, he of the blank contract or to Ben Zobrist, he of the World Series MVP trophy.

But Lester has been the goods in so many ways, and he showed it again Saturday in a 10-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

Pitching in the heat and humidity, Lester worked 6? innings and gave up 8 hits and 3 runs to run his record to 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA.

Wait, there's more. Lester contributed to the offense's 7-run first inning with a 2-run single off the wall a short time after Willson Contreras hit a 3-run homer.

Not to be outdone, Lester hit an opposite-field homer to left in the third.

To recap, since signing a six-year contract with the Cubs before the 2015 season, Lester is 70-37 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.

That's to say nothing of the leadership qualities the Cubs signed for in addition to his pitching abilities.

"I honestly believe that this is another level of him that I'm witnessing," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team won its second in a row over the Pirates to improve to 49-43. "He's in really great control of himself, also. It's hard to say because he's been so good for so long. In the dugout and watching him on the mound, he doesn't get in a hurry. If something happens, he's able to reel himself back in.

"I think is the best version of Jon I've seen as a total athlete, pitcher. You can talk about his hitting, also, if you want. But everything about his performance, he's exemplifying leadership as well as I've seen him do it."

Lester took the praise in stride.

"I feel old," he said when apprised of Maddon's remarks. "High praise. I have to pitch a lot more. I have to do a lot more kind of navigating around some things. The last however many (starts), I've felt a lot better about my stuff and where I've been at. Hopefully I can continue to kind of ride that momentum as we go forward into the second half and pitch well down the stretch."

If you really want to get carried away, head to Lester's page on baseball-reference.com and check out the site's similarity scores to Lester, a three-time world champion and five-time all-star. Some of those pitchers have asterisks next to their names, signifying Hall of Famer.

That's a story for another day. The story Saturday was the Cubs sending 12 men to the plate in the first inning, with Kyle Schwarber leading off with a walk before walking again his second time up. The Cubs chased Pirates starter Jordan Lyles, who threw 43 pitches in just two-thirds of an inning.

True to form, Lester did not let up, not with the conditions favoring the hitters. As it was, he gave up a solo homer to Jung Ho Kang in the fifth and another to Starling Marte in the sixth.

"It changes everything," Lester said of the Cubs' first. "But with how hot it was and the wind blowing out, being the second inning, you still have to pitch like it's a fairly close game."

Lester has 9 quality starts and has gone 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his last 5 starts. As far as playing behind Lester, right fielder Jason Heyward has done that since 2016.

"Man, he's a competitor," Heyward said. "He competes. He's coming at you. He's going to throw strikes. He'll mix it up every now and then with a game plan, but he's got to go out there and do his thing. He stays true to himself. Then when we get to the postseason, he knows there's another switch. He knows there's another level. And he stays locked in to that."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Jul 14, 2019
Words:668
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