CHICAGO – Jon Lester’s ERA took as big a hit as he and the Cubs took Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
It’s called “wearing one for the team.”
Lester gave up 10 hits and 11 runs (10 earned) in only four innings as the Oakland Athletics scored early and often to beat the Cubs, 11-4.
About the only bright spot for the Cubs was that recently recalled reliever Duane Underwood Jr. came in and struck out all six batters he faced.
“That was impressive,” Lester said. “He probably should have started the game.”
Lester threw only eight pitches in the first inning, but he threw 43 in the second, when the A’s scored eight runs, sending 12 men to the plate. Dustin Garneau hit a three-run homer in the inning. Oakland scored three more in the fourth on a three-run homer by Stephen Piscotty.
Lester (9-8) wound up throwing 94 pitches over four innings. With the Cubs’ bullpen as beat up as it has been with injuries, the team needed every last drop out of Lester, whose ERA went from 3.84 to 4.46. Over his past five starts, Lester has a 6.91 ERA and a WHIP of 1.71.
“What happened was I gave up 11 runs,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how I feel. It doesn’t matter about a game plan. It doesn’t matter about executing pitches. It doesn’t matter about anything. I gave up 11 runs.”
Overall, the Cubs’ starting rotation has pitched well, but Lester called himself the “weakest link” at this point.
Manager Joe Maddon turned to Underwood in the fifth, and he mowed down all six Athletics he faced on 29 pitches. Underwood, a second-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2012, made the transition from starter to reliever in May at Triple-A Iowa. He put up a 2.83 ERA in 19 relief appearances while striking out 36 in 282/3 innings out of the bullpen.
Underwood tied the franchise record for consecutive strikeouts by a reliever and became the first Cubs reliever to do it since Juan Cruz in 2003. Before that, Bruce Sutter did it in 1977.
“I didn’t know it was six until I got to the dugout, and they said, ‘Look at the board,’ ” he said. “I thought that was pretty cool. I’m not going out there to punch tickets. I’m just trying to get guys out.”
With a day game Wednesday, Maddon was able to get several of his regulars out of the game early. The Cubs picked up two runs in the sixth. Nicholas Castellanos doubled and came home on Kris Bryant’s 22nd homer. It was Bryant’s first homer since July 24. They added a pair of runs in the ninth.
In the top of the ninth, Maddon had backup catcher Taylor Davis pitch to Kyle Schwarber, a former catcher who has played left field. It was his first game at catcher since September 2017.
“Awesome, it was great,” Maddon said. “I wanted to get Schwarbs in to catch [Derek] Holland, but it didn’t work out based on different things, just to give him a real live pitcher out there, but we just did not have enough people to cover. … It was a light moment, which is good.”