Pitching With Heavy Heart, Jon Lester Comes Through For Cubs

By Chris Emma—

CHICAGO (CBS) – PLACT was spelled out just above the brim of Jon Lester’s Cubs hat, written in bold white lettering and visible from home plate. It was the abbreviation of “Play Like A Champion Today,” the slogan of Notre Dame’s storied football program.

For Lester on Saturday, it meant much more. His uncle passed away Friday, as Lester emotionally revealed after pitching eight innings and earning the victory in the Cubs’ 3-2 comeback win over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Lester kept the details of his family’s loss private in speaking to the media after the game – only explaining the impact of PLACT on Saturday. His uncle attended Notre Dame.

“Play like a champion today,” Lester said while wiping away tears. “I was letting him know that I was thinking of him.”

Indeed, Lester played like a champion Saturday. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning, one that ended unexpectedly with a hit from Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. But Lester kept battling from there, finishing the game with 10 strikeouts before finding trouble in the eighth inning.

With two outs, the Cardinals struck for back-to-back homers off Lester. Paul DeJong hit one into the first row of the left-field bleachers, then Randal Grichuk followed with a homer to right field. A hush went through Wrigley Field as the ballpark was stunned silent. Lester went from in charge to in line for a loss.

But the Cubs had a rally in store for the bottom of the eighth.

Jon Jay floated a single into center field, then Ben Zobrist ripped a double to the gap to score Jay. The table was set for Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, with the Cubs down 2-1 and looking for heroics.

They came through in the clutch, with Bryant dropping a broken-bat single into left field to score Zobrist. Rizzo followed with a bloop two-out double to the left-center field gap, scoring Bryant all the way from first base.

A roar went through Wrigley as Bryant motored from first base. He was running with the pitch and had his sights set on scoring. Suddenly, Lester’s outing was nearly forgotten, and that was just fine. The Cubs’ comeback underscored an important theme for the second half of this season. So long as the Cubs get outings like this, they’ll have a chance in every game, waiting only on some big hits.

Lester’s task was simply to give the Cubs a chance to win the game and let the hitters do the rest. He went above and beyond before a pair of mistakes put a stellar start in jeopardy. The Cubs had to pick up their pitcher, and they finally did.

“Beautiful game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs returned to their clubhouse and turned the music up. This was one of those victories to really soak in. If it proves to be a catalyst for a winning streak, the heroics of Bryant and Rizzo will be remembered.

There would have been no comeback without Lester’s outstanding performance. True to form, he was the same relentless man on the mound while pitching with a heavy heart. The Cubs picked up their emotional ace and rallied for a big win.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

More from Chris Emma

Watch & Listen LIVE