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Jon Lester flirts with no-hitter; Chicago Cubs blank Atlanta Braves

By Guy Curtright, The Sports Xchange

ATLANTA -- Jon Lester snapped two losing streaks while taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in the process.

The left-hander ended up allowing two singles in 7 1/3 innings and the Chicago Cubs defeated the Atlanta Braves 4-0 on a steamy Saturday night before 45,758 at Turner Field.

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Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski broke up the no-hit bid by Lester (5-8) when he lined a 1-0 belt-high cutter into right field leading off the eighth.

"Six outs is hard to do," said Lester, who pitched a no-hitter for Boston in 2008. "It was a long way to go, especially with this heat."

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The victory snapped a six-game losing streak for Lester, who hadn't won since May 16, and ended a stretch of eight consecutive losses by the Cubs in Atlanta.

The real drama, though, involved the no-hit bid, which was made possible because of a delayed scoring change.

Braves right fielder Nick Markakis reached base with two outs in the first inning on what was original called a single. Official scorer Jack Wilkinson, though, changed the call after the sixth inning to an error on third baseman Kris Bryant, who tried to make a backhand pick on a short hop.

Lester said he didn't realize the change had been made until he was on deck in the top of the eighth and looked at the scoreboard.

"I didn't really understand why they changed it or why it took so long," Lester said. "That's a tough play. ... It's one of those plays that can go either way."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "I really thought when it occurred that it could be changed at some point during the game. Reaction was, that makes my mindset different. He can have 120 pitches after eight innings and with a no-hitter he is going to go back out there."

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Lester, though, didn't put Maddon on the spot.

Third baseman Juan Uribe sent a long drive to center field after Pierzynski's hit and Lester was pulled after 110 pitches when shortstop Andrelton Simmons followed with a single.

"He had great carry on his pitches and I didn't really see it go away," Maddon said. "After that hit by Pierzysnski, he probably lost a little of that adrenalin. The vibe diminished a bit."

Hector Rodon relieved Lester, who had seven strikeouts, and got pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson on a fly ball before striking out second baseman Jace Peterson.

Pierzynski, hit by a pitch, was erased on a double play in the second inning and Lester didn't allow another runner until Uribe walked with two outs in the fifth.

"His stuff was really good," Cubs catcher David Ross said of Lester. "It was a fun night to catch."

Lester lives outside Atlanta and spent the All-Star break just getting away from things. Apparently, the decompression worked.

"He was commanding his fastball, he really was," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Both sides of the plate, keeping it down. I thought his command of his fastball was as good as I've seen not only by him but anybody."

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The Cubs (48-41) had scored just three runs for Lester while he was on the mound in his previous six starts and they didn't break this game open until scoring twice in the ninth.

The first run of the inning came thanks to a throwing error by Uribe. First baseman Anthony Rizzo then delivered an RBI single.

Braves rookie starter Manny Banuelos (1-1) was pulled with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth. Veteran right-hander Jason Frasor was the 51st player used by the Braves (43-48) this season, but the Cubs already led 2-0.

A bad pickoff throw by Banuelos was costly in the third inning as Rizzo delivered a two-out RBI hit after Bryant singled and raced all the way to third on the wild toss.

The Cubs gave Lester a second run to work with in the fourth. Left fielder Chris Denorfia opened the inning with a ringing double to the wall in left-center field and shortstop Starlin Castro followed with an RBI single.

Banuelos, making his third career start, gave up six hits, walked two and struck out four while throwing 88 pitches. The first run against him was unearned, keeping his ERA at just 1.08.

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NOTES: Cubs rookie C Kyle Schwarber, who had three hits and two errors Friday, wasn't in the lineup Saturday as veteran C David Ross was paired with LHP Jon Lester. Schwarber pinch hit and flew out. ... Chicago RHP Jake Arrietta (10-5, 2.66 ERA) will start Sunday against RHP Shelby Miller (5-5, 2.38). Miller, who has gone 10 starts without a victory, was the Braves' only All-Star, but he didn't pitch. ... Cubs RHP Jason Hammel, who left a start on July 8 in the first inning because of a strained left hamstring, will be able to pitch Tuesday at Cincinnati. He threw a second side session Saturday and said he felt fine. ... A late-afternoon thunderstorm forced both teams to do pregame hitting indoors. ... The Braves visit Chicago for a four-game series on Aug. 20-23.

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