- Associated Press - Monday, July 18, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Anthony Rizzo kept fouling the ball off, over and over again. When Steven Matz finally blinked, Rizzo capitalized with one mighty swing.

Rizzo hit a three-run homer, Jon Lester pitched 7 2/3 innings and the Chicago Cubs stopped an eight-game losing streak against the New York Mets with a 5-1 victory on Monday night in a rematch of last year’s NL Championship Series.

With one out and two on in the third inning, Rizzo fouled off five straight 2-2 pitches before driving a changeup deep into the bleachers in right-center for his 22nd homer.

“It was 2-2 for a while there. I don’t think he wanted to go 3-2,” Rizzo said. “He was making good pitches and I was just fighting them off. Just try to grind at-bats, that’s what we’re so good at doing.”

The crowd of 41,353 cheered wildly as Rizzo rounded the bases on a picturesque night at Wrigley Field. The All-Star slugger is batting .339 with three homers and 10 RBIs in July.

“He’s the anchor of the whole group. There’s no question about it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Matz (7-6) blamed himself for poor execution.

“You really want to grit your teeth and beat this guy,” he said. “Unfortunately, he won.”

The last time the Mets visited the iconic neighborhood ballpark, they finished off a sweep of the Cubs to advance to the World Series. They swept Chicago again in New York from June 30 to July 3, roughing up Lester for one of the wins.

This time around was much different.

Lester (10-4) allowed one run - Wilmer Flores’ leadoff homer in the seventh - and four hits in his first win in a month. David Ross added a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and Albert Almora Jr. singled in Matt Szczur in the eighth as the NL Central leaders won for the fourth time in five games since dropping five in a row.

“We were able to get some quick outs with some well-located fastballs and some well-located cutters,” Lester said, “so that was huge for us tonight.”

Hector Rondon replaced Carl Edwards Jr. with two runners on in the ninth and got Travis d’Arnaud to bounce into a game-ending double play for his 16th save.

Matz was charged with four runs and eight hits in five-plus innings. The rookie left-hander dropped to 0-5 in his last nine starts.

“Even though I thought he threw the ball fine, he didn’t have his real Grade-A stuff,” manager Terry Collins said. “But he battled the best he could.”

Matz nearly had another run on his line, but left fielder Yoenis Cespedes cut down Willson Contreras with a perfect throw to the plate when the rookie tried to score from second on Szczur’s third-inning single.

BREAK FOR ZOBRIST

Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist rested for the second straight day. Maddon picked Sunday for a day off for the All-Star, and then decided to give him another day of rest.

“He told me yesterday that he wanted to give me two in a row,” Zobrist said. “I think it will be good to be able to stay off my feet a little bit and try and get caught up. Just didn’t feel like the break kind of helped me get caught up as much as I wanted it to.”

The 35-year-old Zobrist started at second in the All-Star Game. He is batting .277 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs in his first season with the Cubs.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: RHP Matt Harvey had season-ending thoracic outlet surgery in St. Louis. … RHP Jim Henderson (biceps) is throwing 91 to 93 mph during his rehab stint at Triple-A Las Vegas, and Collins said the reliever is nearing a return.

Cubs: OFs Dexter Fowler (right hamstring strain) and Jorge Soler (left hamstring strain) were traveling to Iowa and are expected to begin their rehab stints with the Triple-A club on Tuesday. Fowler could return to the Cubs by the end of the week. “That would be the optimal situation,” Maddon said.

UP NEXT

All-Star RHPs Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and Jake Arrieta of the Cubs face off on Tuesday. Syndergaard (9-4, 2.56 ERA) was removed from last start on July 8 due to arm fatigue. “I think the rest has been good for him,” Collins said. Arrieta (12-4, 2.68 ERA) is looking to get back on track after allowing four or more earned runs in three consecutive starts for the first time since 2012.

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

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