EditorsNote: Tweaks in 6th, 8th, 9th and last graf
Left-hander Jon Lester was nearly flawless over six innings and Ian Happ hit a solo homer Thursday as the Chicago Cubs slipped past the host Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0.
Lester combined with relievers Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop for a six-hit shutout.
Chicago, in first place in the National League Central, improved to a season-high 20 games over .500 at 70-50.
Pittsburgh lost its fourth straight to fall back to .500, 61-61, and to 10 games behind the Cubs in the division. It was the Pirates’ first of 16 games in a row against teams ahead of them in the playoff chase.
It was a pitchers’ duel between starters Lester and Pittsburgh right-hander Ivan Nova.
Lester (13-5) had lost his luster after the All-Star break, entering Thursday 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA in five starts since the Midsummer Classic. He regained his All-Star form against the Pirates: All five hits he allowed were singles, and he struck out eight while walking none.
Strop pitched the ninth for his 10th save.
Nova (7-7) gave up one run and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, with three strikeouts and no walks. He has been charged with 13 earned runs in his past seven home starts, a total of 40 innings.
Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez gave his team a chance, stranding an inherited runner and striking out four in 1 1/3 perfect innings, but Pittsburgh could not break through for any run support.
Felipe Vazquez gave up the game’s only walk in the ninth but otherwise handled the Cubs.
With one out in the fourth, Happ — who grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb — launched the ball into the stands in right-center for his 13th homer and a 1-0 Chicago lead. It was the Cubs’ only extra-base hit.
The Pirates’ best scoring chance came in the fifth. Josh Harrison hit a two-out single and moved to third on Adeiny Hechavarria’s single. Nova, who entered the at-bat 1-for-44 with no RBIs this season, struck out to end the threat.
—Field Level Media