Baez, Lester lead Cubs over Mets 2-0 for 4-game sweep
NEW YORK (AP) — The Cubs practiced a risky baserunning play during spring training, one that requires optimal conditions to execute successfully. That situation presented itself in the seventh inning Sunday, and manager Joe Maddon's club didn't hesitate to act.
Jon Lester dominated for seven innings and Javier Baez stole home to break a scoreless tie as Chicago blanked the New York Mets 2-0, completing a four-game sweep and winning for the seventh time in eight games.
"It's the best week of the year for us," Maddon said.
The Mets have lost four straight and nine of 11, dropping three games under .500 for the first time this season. They scored just six runs in this series.
The two clubs were back at it on Sunday following a rainy, 14-inning marathon that took almost five hours to complete the night before.
On an unseasonably cool afternoon, both starting pitchers matched zeroes until the seventh, when the Cubs scored twice thanks to some very aggressive baserunning.
Baez and Willson Contreras led off with back-to-back singles, putting runners at the corners. With Ian Happ at the plate, Chicago pulled off a daring double steal.
"This is the stuff you work on in spring training and it doesn't happen often that the world is set up the proper way for it to occur," Maddon said. "When it does pop, you've got to be prepared for it mentally."
Mets starter Steven Matz (2-4) was unaware that Baez was breaking for the plate, stepping off and throwing to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in an attempt to pick off Contreras instead.
"When I was on first base and Javy gave me a sign to take a bigger lead, at that point I knew exactly what he was thinking," Contreras said through a translator. "So on the first pitch I did a fake steal, which I think prompted the throw over on the second pitch and it worked out."
Said Matz: "That's my fault."
"I should have been more aware of that, especially with a guy like Baez," he said.
Gonzalez threw home, but it was too late to catch the sliding Baez, who scored easily while Contreras advanced to second.
"As soon as I got to third, I was trying to get Willson's attention so he can get a big lead," Baez said.
An amped-up Baez was greeted by raucous cheers and smiles in the Cubs dugout, including a big grin on the face of Lester.
"Javy never really ceases to amaze anybody," Lester said. "I saw that happen and literally just kind of laughed. That's all you really can do."
With runners on the corners again later in the inning, Ben Zobrist hit a popup to shallow right field. Second baseman Luis Guillorme made an awkward stretching catch and was not in position to make a clean throw home, allowing Contreras to score and giving the Cubs a 2-0 lead on an unlikely sacrifice fly.
"If I'm not sure he's under it, I have to call him off," said right fielder Jay Bruce, who was behind Guillorme.
Lester (6-2) walked the first two batters of the game but proceeded to strike out the side. The four-time All-Star then retired 14 in a row until two outs in the fifth inning, when shortstop Addison Russell misplayed a two-out grounder off the bat of the speedy Amed Rosario into an error.
Playing short-handed due to multiple injuries, the Mets were forced to slot five lefties into the starting lineup against a tough southpaw.
Lester faced his only real challenge in the sixth inning. With one out, Jose Bautista was hit on the foot with a pitch. After Bruce flied out, cleanup hitter Kevin Plawecki's sharp grounder to the left side grazed Baez's glove but continued on into left field for New York's first hit of the game.
Michael Conforto walked to load the bases, but Lester coaxed a weak grounder from Gonzalez to end the threat.
Lester allowed just two hits, walking three and striking out seven.
Brian Duensing pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save.
Tommy La Stella and Baez switched positions between second and third base 10 times in the first five innings, before Baez moved to short to start the sixth.
"I wanted Javy where the highest probability was," Maddon said.
Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant was given the day off to rest. Happ manned first base for the first time in his career. ... Russell left the game with a left middle finger contusion, an injury he suffered during his at-bat in the fifth inning. "I think it's just like a strained finger. Just a day or two, maybe three," he said.
Mets: LF Yoenis Cespedes (strained right hip flexor) will face live pitching on Tuesday. Manager Mickey Callaway is not sure if the slugger will play in any minor league games before returning, noting that the club will "lean on him" when making that decision. ... RHP Noah Syndergaard (strained ligament in right index finger) was scheduled to throw a light side session Sunday. ... RHP Anthony Swarzak (strained left oblique) was set to pitch for Triple-A Las Vegas on Sunday in what could be his final rehab appearance, according to Callaway. ... RHP AJ Ramos (strained right shoulder) has yet to begin throwing. ... 3B Todd Frazier (strained left hamstring) is likely to be activated Tuesday. ... 3B David Wright (shoulder and back surgeries) fielded grounders before the game.
Cubs: Chicago begins a six-game homestand Tuesday against the Phillies, sending RHP Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.19 ERA) to the hill in the series opener against RHP Zach Eflin (1-2, 4.50 ERA).
Mets: Following a much-needed off day, New York welcomes Baltimore to town for a two-game set. LHP Jason Vargas (2-3, 8.53 ERA) is slated to start for the Mets Tuesday night. The Orioles counter with RHP Dylan Bundy (3-7, 4.46 ERA).