Lester flirts with no-hitter for a bit, Cubs beat Braves
ATLANTA (AP) Jon Lester didn't know what to think when he was getting ready to bat in the top of the eighth inning, looked at the scoreboard and saw he hadn't allowed a hit.
An unusual reversal by the official scorer created the short-lived no-hit opportunity that had players in both dugouts confused.
Lester lost his bid for a no-hitter in the eighth inning but ended the longest winless streak of his career as the Chicago Cubs shut out the Atlanta Braves 4-0 on Saturday night.
A chopper down the line in the Braves' first by Nick Markakis was originally ruled a hit. The scorer, longtime Atlanta sports writer Jack Wilkinson, changed his call in the top of the seventh and charged an error to third baseman Kris Bryant, who let the ball get under his glove.
''I really didn't understand what was going on, why they changed it or what happened or why it took so long or whatever,'' Lester said.
''At first it was kind of confusing why all of a sudden it was changed but at the end of the day it didn't matter.''
A.J. Pierzynski, Lester's batterymate in Boston for the first half of the 2014 season, led off the eighth with a line-drive single to right field for Atlanta's first hit. With one out, Andrelton Simmons' single up the middle chased Lester.
Wilkinson said he thought about changing his ruling even before realizing there was a potential no-hitter at stake.
''I just wanted to make the right call,'' Wilkinson said. ''It wasn't like I was thinking or even saying to myself, `My God, this guy's got a no-hitter going. I could have blown this for him.'''
Markakis was stunned by the reversal.
''I don't know how many years of baseball I've been playing but I've never seen that before,'' Markakis said.
Lester (5-8) had gone 10 starts without a win. He struck out seven, walked one and hit Pierzynski with a pitch in 7 1-3 innings.
Lester pitched a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 2008 against Kansas City. Earlier this month, the lefty took a no-hit bid into the seventh against St. Louis before Jhonny Peralta broke it up with a one-out single on a hard grounder that deflected off Bryant at third base.
The Cubs had lost eight straight at Turner Field dating to 2012. It was their longest road drought against the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.
Manny Banuelos (1-1) allowed one earned run on six hits and three walks in 4 2-3 innings.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third when Bryant singled, moved to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Banuelos and scored on Anthony Rizzo's single.
Chris Denorfia doubled in the fourth and scored on a single by Starlin Castro.
Rizzo added another RBI single in the Cubs' two-run ninth.
Jason Frasor, who signed with Atlanta on Friday, replaced Banuelos in the fifth. According to information the Elias Sports Bureau provided the team, Frasor is the franchise-record 51st player used by the Braves this season.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he won't force playing time - including in the outfield - for rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber, who had three hits on Friday night but didn't start on Saturday. Schwarber hit a pinch-hit fly ball to centerfield in the ninth.
''There's a plan in place. Let's stick to the plan,'' Maddon said.
Cubs: RHP Jason Hammel is on track to make his scheduled start against the Reds on Tuesday. He left his July 8 start against the Cardinals after only one inning due to tightness in his left hamstring but had no problems throwing a side session on Saturday.
Braves: LHP Andrew McKirahan can join the team on Monday. He has been on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett while completing his 80-game suspension following a positive drug test. His penalty began after he appeared in three games with Atlanta in April. ''The plan is for him to be here Monday,'' said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Cubs: Jake Arrieta (10-5), coming off a complete-game victory over the White Sox, will try to extend his string of five consecutive quality starts in Sunday's final game of the series. He is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA in that five-game stretch.
Braves: RHP Shelby Miller (5-5) will look for better run support in his first start after making his first NL All-Star team. He ranks sixth in the NL with his 2.38 ERA, but he has received only 2.93 runs of offensive support per nine innings, fifth-worst among NL starters.