Observations from Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber returning to Wrigley Field
It was an emotional night at Wrigley Field Monday as the Cubs greeted old friends Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber, who are now sporting Washington Nationals uniforms.
We recapped the top moments throughout the momentous evening, including observations from the field and reactions from players as the Cubs won 7-3.
Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ went all out for Lester’s return to Wrigley, with Rizzo donning a 34 Lester Cubs jersey arriving to the ballpark while Happ sported a cowboy hat:
Dressed for the occasion. pic.twitter.com/ZCahQFToKd— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 17, 2021
After the game, Lester was asked about Rizzo wearing his jersey and reflected on his special bond with the Cubs first baseman:
“That’s Rizz,” Lester said. “He actually texted me last night and said that he was gonna do it and I called him on his bluff. I said, ‘You won’t.’ And he did.
“We get to play with guys throughout years and there’s certain ones that stick. We call them baseball friends. Like if I run into someone that I played with 10 years ago that I hadn’t talked to in 10 years, you immediately pick up that relationship and it’s like you never left. Then you have guys like Rizz that are friends for life. I mean, my kids look up to him. They were probably more excited to see him than seeing me today.
“It’s a unique relationship. Obviously he’s meant a lot to this organization, he’s meant a lot to me and my career here, so for him to do that, Happer kinda doing the same thing with the hat and the flannel shirts. Guys that you always keep in contact with and always root for and friends for life. Pretty cool. Pretty special.”
The festivities kicked off with the Wrigley Field loudspeakers blaring “The Boys are Back in Town” as both teams warmed up for the action.
The emotions really started to fly when the Cubs played a tribute to Schwarber on the left field video board just after the National Anthem:
Forever. pic.twitter.com/ib5zUhtki6— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 17, 2021
They also gifted him a No. 12 from the Wrigley scoreboard:
Cubs, Ross gift Schwarber a 12 from the Wrigley scoreboard after a tribute video: pic.twitter.com/wsaWKaVkX5— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 17, 2021
Schwarber came up to the plate in the top of the 1st inning and the Cubs played his old walk-up song “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” as he stepped into the box. Willson Contreras gave him a moment to interact with the crowd and he tipped his hat in kind to the standing ovation.
Nothing but love for Schwarbs. pic.twitter.com/oxxllPR2Qd— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 17, 2021
Schwarber ended the at-bat by grounding out to Rizzo at first base.
As Lester took the mound for the bottom of the 1st inning, the Cubs once again came through with the music, blasting “Gonna Know We Were Here,” his old walk-out tune.
Contreras greeted his old battery mate with a 107.8 mph single to center field.
“It was really strange,” said Contreras who caught Lester for the last four seasons. “I wanted to laugh; I wanted to smile. But it was super serious. There was a focus. I know that he’s a gamer. Felt strange facing him now that he’s on another team.
“I wish him the best. We’re still really close, we text each other back and forth once in a while and it was really good to see him back at Wrigley Field.”
Kris Bryant followed with a soft liner down the right field line and then Rizzo stepped into the box.
This was the matchup Lester said he was looking forward to most, against his good friend and the face of the Cubs franchise.
With bragging rights on the line, Rizzo swung at the first pitch and flew out to Schwarber, driving home Contreras in the process.
In between innings early in the game, Bryant left a little gift for Schwarber in the Wrigley Field grass:
Kris Bryant left a Twix bar for Kyle Schwarber in left field.— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) May 18, 2021
After that, Schwarber hit his home run.
"Maybe the Twix calmed my nerves down."
In his first at-bat off his former teammate, Jason Heyward deposited a 2-run homer into the left-field bleachers in the 2nd inning. It was reminiscent of the homer he hit off Jake Arrieta and the Cubs in the 2015 NLDS as a member of the Cardinals.
“It’s just different, man,” Lester said. “Like you’re pitching against your buddies, you’re pitching against guys that you’ve grinded with for a lot of years and built relationships with, so it’s just a different feeling than pitching in like a playoff game or something like that.”
Lester batted in the top of the 3rd inning and Contreras once again stepped out from his crouch to give everybody time to soak in the moment. Even some of the Cubs players got in on the ovation, with Bryant, Javy Báez and Matt Duffy clapping along with the crowd.
Forever a Cub. pic.twitter.com/LHbDhCeEzr— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 18, 2021
“I was out there thinking we should petition the mayor for tomorrow for Jon Lester Day and let it be full capacity just for the pregame ceremonies for him,” David Ross said.
Lester finished his at-bat the same way Schwarber did — with a bouncing ball to Rizzo.
Contreras knew it was a big moment for both Schwarber and Lester, so he wanted to give his former teammates a couple extra seconds to enjoy it.
“They helped us win a lot of ballgames,” Contreras said. “They helped us win the World Series and those two were a huge part of the 2016 World Series. They deserve that. That’s why I took a few steps forward and took my time for them to soak it up.”
Contreras led off the Cubs half of the 3rd inning with another frozen rope off Lester, this time for a solo homer into the left field bleachers:
Later that frame, Rizzo smoked a single to left-center off Lester but was thrown out trying to take second. As he slid into the bag, Rizzo made some light contact with another former teammate — Starlin Castro — and the two gave each other playful shoves after the play.
Schwarber homered in the top of the 4th inning and the crowd had a mixed bag of reactions — some cheers and a few boos.
In typical Wrigley fashion, the fans threw Schwarber’s home run ball back onto the field, so he got to keep a unique souvenir from his return to Chicago:
Throw every opponents home run ball back, even if it's Kyle Schwarber. pic.twitter.com/gtYJMMSzlu— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 18, 2021
“I was like, ‘They threw it back?!’” Schwarber said after the game. “But I was able to get the ball and I’m gonna get it authenticated and definitely keep it as a keepsake. Definitely a special moment here for myself.”
In the 6th inning, Báez chased Lester with an opposite field homer:
Lester finished with 76 pitches against his former team, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits in 5.1 innings. He struck out 4 and did not walk a batter.
Adbert Alzolay got the start and the win for the Cubs in the game and spoke after the contest about what it was like watching the fans react to Lester and Schwarber the way they did Monday night.
“It was a really special moment seeing Jonny again out there,” Alzolay said. “The standing ovation and everything that happened in the game was deserved for him. He did so much for this team and this city. He took me under his wing when I first made it to the big leagues.
“Those two guys are legends here with this team.”
When asked what he learned most from Lester over the last couple years, Alzolay pointed to the veteran’s competitive spirit:
“It’s just staying in the moment and keep competing,” Alzolay said. “Jon is a big guy that always stays in the fight and always keep pushing and competing.”
Alzolay took that advice to heart as he battled through a day where he didn’t feel comfortable throwing his slider — his best pitch — and felt like he had to battle to get through 5 innings.