Kyle Schwarber talked before tonight’s game, his first as a member of the opposition in Wrigley Field, about returning Chicago and the Cubs who drafted him 4th overall in the 2014 Draft.
As much as he liked his time in the Windy City, Schwarber said he was here wanting to beat the Cubbies now that he’s playing for the Washington Nationals, but he did want to say that he was thankful for his time in the friendly confines, playing in front of their rabid fan base.
“I appreciate them for all the support they gave me throughout the past six years, and know that they’re held close to my heart,” Schwarber said.
“And happy to be back here and hopefully it ends up on our side with a curly-W and not the W flag flying. But hopefully that’s what we’re going to be rolling with here after the game.”
Schwarber homered in the fourth, hitting one out to center field, some 407 feet from home, to make it a 4-3 game in the Cubs’ favor, but his fellow former Cub, Jon Lester, struggled in his own return to Wrigley, giving up eight hits and five earned runs in 5 1⁄3 innings, and the Nationals dropped the series opener by a final score of 7-3.
Lester vs Cubs: Three starts into his 1-year/$5M deal with the Nationals, Jon Lester has been impressive. Bouncing back from surgery to remove one of four parathyroid glands and an IL stint as part of the Nationals’ COVID outbreak, the 37-year-old left-hander had put up a 2.25 ERA, with seven walks, 10 Ks, and a .259/.338/.328 line against in 16 innings pitched before tonight, bringing the stability to the back end of the rotation the club was hoping for when they signed him this winter.
Tonight, he was back in Wrigley Field, after pitching for the Cubs between 2015-2020.
His return to Chicago started with a nice ovation from the crowd in his former home, then a couple singles, by Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant, and a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo that got the Cubbies on the board, up 1-0 after one on the North Side of Chicago.
Matt Duffy singled to start the Cubs’ second and scored on an opposite field home run to left off Jason Heyward’s bat, 3-0. No. 4 for Heyward this season.
It was 3-1 when Lester took the mound in the bottom of the third and gave up his second home run of the game, on a first-pitch cutter inside that Willson Contreras turned on and sent out to left field, 4-1. No. 8 for Contreras.
It was a one-run game when Lester took the mound in the fourth, and retired the side in order in an 11-pitch frame, and a 19-pitch fifth, in which he worked around a ground-rule double to left, left him at 68 pitches total on the night.
One out into the bottom of the sixth, however, he was done for the night, after giving up a solo shot to center by Javier Báez, whose 9th of 2021 made it 5-3 Cubs.
Jon Lester’s Line: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 3 HRs, 76 P, 53 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
Alzolay vs D.C.: Adbert Alzolay, 26, took the mound tonight at home in Wrigley Field with a 4.50 ERA, seven walks, 36 Ks, and a .184/.244/.377 line against in 36 IP on the season, and the right-hander was coming off a six-inning start against Cleveland in which he gave up a total of three runs on five hits while striking out six.
Alzolay had 10 appearances, and six starts, between 2019-2020, but he’s already pitched more this season than in either of his previous two stints in the majors, and he said he is really getting comfortable.
“It’s been really fun. I’m looking forward to more matchups like this one,” Alzolay said, as quoted in the Chicago Sun Times after his sixth start.
“I think that’s the good part right now is that I’ve been matching really good pitchers lately, and I do like that.”
Alzolay tossed two scoreless innings to start tonight’s game, going up against Cubs’ legend Jon Lester, but he took the mound in the top of the third, with a 3-0 lead, and gave up a two-out home run to left field off of Trea Turner’s bat that just cleared the bleachers, 3-1.
It was 4-1 in the Cubs’ favor after three, but Kyle Schwarber made it a one-run game with a two-run shot in the top of the fourth, on a 1-0 sinker up in the zone that went out to center field. Schwarber’s 6th.
Alzolay’s outing ended with a quick, seven-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth that left him at 63 pitches...
Adbert Alzolay’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 Ks, 2 HRs, 63 P, 44 S, 11/0 GO/FO.
Former Cubs Night: As the Nationals mentioned in their pregame notes, there were plenty of former Cubs in Wrigley Field tonight.
Here’s their breakdown of the returning one-time Cubbies who are now with the Nationals:
• Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber - who each played for the Cubs from 2015-20 - return as visitors for the first time...
• Lester was a two-time All-Star (2016, 2018) and both were members of Chicago’s 2016 World Series championship.
• Nationals manager Dave Martinez served as the Cubs bench coach from 2015-17.
• Starlin Castro spent six seasons (2010-15) with the Cubs where he made three All-Star teams (2011, 2012, 2014).
• Alex Avila was acquired by the Cubs at the 2017 Trade Deadline.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked before the game why Lester and Schwarber, in particular, were so beloved in Chicago.
“Oh, gosh, just their total attitude, not just about the game, but just being around them, the communication, the fun that they bring,” he said. “These two guys are always, as intense as they may be, they love the game, they love having fun, and it shows.
“As you know, Lester left here and bought everybody a beer when he left, [ed. note - “$47K worth.”] That only tells you what he thinks about his fans and the game.
“These guys are, like I said, I’ve known them,” Martinez continued, “... I know what kind of characters they are, they’re winners, and for us, fortunately, they’re on our side now and I love that.”
Bullpen Action: Lefty Rex Brothers took over for the Cubs in the top of the sixth inning and recorded two outs around a walk to Josh Bell, then Ryan Tepera came on to get out No. 3.
Kyle Finnegan took over for the Nationals with one down in the sixth, and the score 5-3 in the Cubs’ favor, and got two quick outs to keep it a two-run game.
Tepera returned to the mound in the top of the seventh and retired the Nationals in order.
“Every Day” Sam Clay got the bottom of the seventh for the Nats, and gave up a leadoff single by Nico Hoerner, who took second on a wild pitch, and advanced to third on Yan Gomes’ throwing error on the play. A one-out, pinch hit single by Eric Sogard brought in another run, 6-3 Cubs. That was it for Clay.
Tanner Rainey took over and got the final two outs to keep it a three-run game.
Andrew Chafin got into some trouble in the top of the eighth, walking Trea Turner in front of Juan Soto, who hit a shattered bat single to center. One out later, Kyle Schwarber walked to load them up with two out, and Starlin Castro stepped in next and sent a ground ball out to second, where Nick Hoerner made a sliding play and strong throw to first to end the threat. Still 6-3 Cubbies.
Paolo Espino gave up a leadoff double by Anthony Rizzo, and a two-out RBI single by Jason Heyward, 7-3 Cubbies.
Tommy Nance made his MLB debut in the ninth for the Cubs, and retired the Nationals in order to end it.
Final Score: 7-3 Cubs
Nationals now 16-21