CHICAGO—Anthony Rizzo kept fouling the ball off, over and over again.
When Steven Matz finally blinked, Rizzo capitalized with one mighty swing.
Rizzo hit a three-run homer, and Jon Lester pitched 7 2/3 innings, as the Chicago Cubs stopped an eight-game losing streak against the N.Y. Mets with a 5-1 victory last night in a rematch of last year’s NL Championship Series.
With one out and two on in the third inning, Rizzo fouled off five-straight 2-2 pitches before driving a change-up deep into the bleachers in right-centre for his 22nd homer.
“It was 2-2 for a while there. I don’t think he wanted to go 3-2,” Rizzo noted.
“He was making good pitches and I was just fighting them off.
“Just try to grind at-bats,” he added. “That’s what we’re so good at doing.”
The crowd of 41,353 cheered wildly as Rizzo rounded the bases on a picturesque night at Wrigley Field.
The all-star slugger is batting .339 with three homers and 10 RBIs in July.
“He’s the anchor of the whole group. There’s no question about it,” said Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon.
Matz (7-6) blamed himself for poor execution.
“You really want to grit your teeth and beat this guy,” he said.
“Unfortunately, he won.”
The last time the Mets visited the iconic neighbourhood ballpark, they finished off a sweep of the Cubs to advance to the World Series.
They swept Chicago again in New York from June 30-July 3—roughing up Lester for one of the wins.
This time around was much different.
Lester (10-4) allowed just one run—Wilmer Flores’ lead-off homer in the seventh—and four hits for his first win in a month.
David Ross added a sacrifice fly in the sixth while Albert Almora Jr. singled in Matt Szczur in the eighth as the NL Central leaders won for the fourth time in five games since dropping five in a row.
“We were able to get some quick outs with some well-located fastballs and some well-located cutters,” Lester said.
“So that was huge for us tonight.”
Hector Rondon replaced Carl Edwards Jr. with two runners on in the ninth and got Travis d’Arnaud to bounce into a game-ending double play for his 16th save.
Matz was charged with four runs and eight hits in five-plus innings.
The rookie left-hander dropped to 0-5 in his last nine starts.
“Even though I thought he threw the ball fine, he didn’t have his real Grade-A stuff,” noted manager Terry Collins.
“But he battled the best he could.”
Matz nearly had another run on his line but left-fielder Yoenis Cespedes cut down Willson Contreras with a perfect throw to the plate when the rookie tried to score from second on Szczur’s third-inning single.
Meanwhile, Cubs’ second baseman Ben Zobrist rested for the second-straight day.
Maddon picked Sunday for a day off for the all-star, then decided to give him another day of rest.
“He told me yesterday [Sunday] that he wanted to give me two in a row,” Zobrist said.
“I think it will be good to be able to stay off my feet a little bit and try and get caught up,” he added.
“Just didn’t feel like the break kind of helped me get caught up as much as I wanted it to.”
The 35-year-old Zobrist started at second in the all-star Game.
He is batting .277 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs in his first season with the Cubs.
Elsewhere in the NL, Miami edged Philadelphia 3-2 (11 innings), Cincinnati beat Atlanta 8-2, and St. Louis dumped San Diego 10-2.
Colorado beat Tampa Bay 7-4 in interleague play.