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Friday July 30th, 2021 7:40PM

Contreras homers off Lester as Cubs beat Nationals 7-3

By The Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — Willson Contreras and the Chicago Cubs heaped praise on Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber in their return to Wrigley Field on Monday. They even shared some of their candy.

That was about as far as they were willing to go when it came to their warm welcome for their former teammates.

Contreras, Jason Heyward and Javier Báez homered off Lester in his return to Chicago, leading the Cubs to a 7-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.

Lester and Schwarber, two key members of Chicago's 2016 World Series championship team, heard loud cheers all night long in their first game against their former team. Contreras put his arm around Schwarber's shoulders before he batted in the first inning, and the catcher gave Lester a brief hug when the pitcher was at the plate in the third.

“We created a really good relationship,” Contreras said. “Those two guys are really friendly. They were great teammates. They are really great persons, on and off the field, and it was so good to see them back at Wrigley Field. I wish they both were here, but we never know what the future holds.”

Schwarber went out to his position in left field and found some candy that Kris Bryant left for his former teammate. Schwarber said he had a Twix bar out on the field, and then connected for a two-run homer in his next at-bat in the fourth.

“It was really pretty good,” Schwarber said. “I looked at him like, ‘Are you crazy, man?’ It was a funny gesture.”

Schwarber's sixth homer landed in the bleachers in center. Per the custom at Chicago's iconic ballpark — even for old friends like the affable Schwarber — the ball was thrown back onto the field.

“I was like, ‘They threw it back?’ But I was able to get the ball and I'm going to get it authenticated,” Schwarber said. “Definitely keep that as a keepsake."

In between the standing ovations, sweet treats and all the cheering for Lester and Schwarber, the Cubs were mostly business during their third win in four games.

Adbert Alzolay (2-3) pitched five innings of three-run ball in his first win since April 29. Second baseman Nico Hoerner robbed Starlin Castro of a bases-loaded hit with a terrific diving stop in the eighth. Eric Sogard and Heyward tacked on run-scoring singles to help Chicago close it out.

Trea Turner hit his 10th homer for Washington, which had won three of four. Josh Bell reached three times on two singles and a walk.

The crowd of 11,144 — a season high for Wrigley — saluted Schwarber with a long ovation after the Cubs paid tribute to the slugger with a pregame highlight video. It was more of the same when Schwarber walked to the plate in the first.

The 37-year-old Lester (0-2) got the same treatment when he took the mound for the bottom of the first. The left-hander took his cap off briefly in appreciation, and then quickly went back to his routine.

“Coming back with fans and seeing those faces was great,” Lester said. “I think you have to kind of toe that fine line of trying to enjoy the moment but at the same time, you know, compete and try to win.”

The pregame cheers for Lester quickly gave way to a series of hard-hit balls for the Cubs, who scored in each of the first three innings. Heyward's two-run shot made it 3-0 in the second, and Contreras connected for his eighth homer in the third.

After Schwarber trimmed Chicago's lead to 4-3 with his homer, Báez chased Lester with an opposite-field shot with one out in the sixth. Lester heard another loud ovation as he trudged off the field and into the visitor's dugout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (shoulder inflammation) is scheduled for an extended bullpen Tuesday. Manager Dave Martinez said Strasburg will throw around 50 pitches. “I just want to make sure that he's completely healthy,” Martinez said. “So far, so good.”

UP NEXT

Left-hander Patrick Corbin (2-3, 6.19 ERA) pitches for Washington on Tuesday, and right-hander Zach Davies (2-2, 5.60 ERA) starts for Chicago. Corbin is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three May starts. Davies also has pitched well this month, allowing two earned runs in 16 1/3 innings.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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