By MIKE HELFGOT, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs got Jon Lester a nice present for his return from the disabled list.
The NL Central leaders supported the left-hander with another big day at the plate.
Rene Rivera hit a grand slam, Anthony Rizzo added a three-run triple and the Cubs held off the Atlanta Braves for a 14-12 victory on Saturday.
Javier Baez and Jason Heyward also homered for Chicago, who have won six straight and 12 of 15 overall. Rivera, Rizzo, Baez and Heyward finished with two hits apiece.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Lester said. “Obviously our offense has really carried us in the second half. The pitching staff has done a really, really good job in the second half. The bullpen has done a great job. Defense has played really, really well.
“That is kind of the recipe for success, pitching and defense. You saw it yesterday, we won a 2-0 game. That is when you know we’re doing the right things and playing good baseball. I love where we’re at. I love our energy. Guys have just done a great job from top to bottom.”
Lester (9-7) allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings in his first start since Aug. 17. He had been sidelined by tightness in his left lat and general shoulder fatigue.
Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Rio Ruiz homered for Atlanta, which has dropped six of eight. Rookies Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson had three hits apiece, and Nick Markakis had two hits and drove in two runs.
The Braves scored three times in the ninth, putting some pressure on the Cubs. Pinch hitter Matt Adams drove in a run with a fielder’s choice and scored on Jace Peterson’s two-out double. Albies singled in Peterson before Wade Davis struck out Freeman to end the game.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Freeman said. “It’s always a little too late. We always come up short, but at least we give them a little scare at the end.”READ MORE: Stimulus Check Update: Is A Fourth Relief Payment In Your Future?
Rivera’s first career grand slam on an 0-2 curveball from Lucas Sims (2-5) hit the foul pole in left and made it 4-0 in the second. The Braves responded with three in the third on consecutive homers by Freeman and Kemp.
The Cubs appeared to break it open with five runs in the fourth, highlighted by Rizzo’s bases-clearing triple. The clutch swing gave Rizzo three straight seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
“It is something I want to continue to do year in and year out,” Rizzo said. “If you can do it one year you want do it again. You want to prove yourself. That’s the name of this game, you’ve got to keep proving yourself.”
Atlanta scored eight runs in the final three innings, but couldn’t catch sweet-swinging Chicago. The World Series champions led the majors with 191 runs in August.
The Braves finished with 17 hits, compared to 12 for the Cubs.
Sims was charged with six hits and seven runs in three-plus innings. The rookie right-hander struck out four and walked four.
The Cubs activated outfielder Leonys Martin, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle on Thursday night. To make room for Martin on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated left-hander Jack Leathersich for assignment.
Braves: CF Ender Inciarte left the game after fouling a pitch off his right ankle in the sixth. Manager Brian Snitker said Inciarte “should be OK tomorrow. We’ll see when he gets here.” RHP Jason Motte was placed on the 10-day DL on Friday with a right oblique strain. He suffered the injury Thursday during a 17-pitch outing. There is no timetable for his return.
Braves rookie Max Fried (0-0, 5.40 ERA) will make his first career start opposite fellow left-hander Mike Montgomery (5-6, 3.29 ERA) in the finale of the four-game series on Sunday. Fried issued six walks over 6 2/3 innings in four relief appearances. Montgomery picked up two wins while allowing one run in 13 innings during Lester’s DL stint to earn at least one more start.