- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Jon Lester thought he threw a lot of good pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But one, in particular, stuck out.

After taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning, the Chicago Cubs left-hander left a fastball over the middle of the plate to Jung Ho Kang, who doubled to give the Pirates the lead in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory Sunday.

“I tried to go in and didn’t locate,” Lester said. “That’s a tough one, but you’ve got to look at the other 100-and-whatever pitches I threw today that were pretty good. I feel like I found my curveball a little bit today, and that will definitely help me as we keep going.”

Starling Marte singled with one out in the seventh to end Lester’s no-hit bid, then scored on Kang’s double to put Gerrit Cole and the Pirates ahead to stay.

“We felt we were due for a while against these guys,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Kang added an eighth-inning home run to help the Pirates beat the major league-leading Cubs for the first time in six tries this season.

Cole (4-3) allowed three hits in eight shutout innings. Mark Melancon gave up a run in a shaky ninth, but held on for his 11th save in 12 chances.

Lester (4-2), who threw a no-hitter with Boston in 2008, had permitted only two walks and retired 16 straight batters before Marte’s opposite-field liner to right on a changeup.

Marte stole second and scored on Kang’s drive to the gap in right-center, chasing Lester after 109 pitches. He struck out nine.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon indicated he would have kept Lester in the game if he continued throwing a no-hitter despite a high pitch count. Lester would have an extra day to recover before his next start because the Cubs are off on Monday.

“It was a little dicey, but if he has it going on, go for it,” Maddon said.

Melancon walked Dexter Fowler and allowed Jason Heyward’s broken-bat single to put runners at the corners with nobody out in the ninth. But the closer retired three of the next four hitters, including Anthony Rizzo’s sacrifice fly.

“We fought to the very last drop again, so there’s nothing to complain about,” Maddon said. “Just a really well-played baseball game, and we got beat.”

Cole struck out seven in a 95-pitch performance that gave the Pirates a much-needed lift.

The Cubs took all three games in Pittsburgh early this month, then the first two in this series. Pittsburgh had been outscored 37-11 by Chicago while falling nine games back in the NL Central.

“It was just an opportunity to try to salvage the series,” Cole said. “I don’t really think they’re the best team in baseball.”

But Cole, who lost to Chicago in last year’s NL wild-card game and again to the Cubs on May 2, continued his dominance at Wrigley Field.

The right-hander’s six wins against the Cubs since the start of 2014 are the most of any pitcher, and he hasn’t allowed a homer at Wrigley Field in 45 innings.

The Cubs’ third loss in 13 games denied them their sixth series sweep of the year and dropped them to 27-9 after Lester came close to producing the club’s second no-hitter of the season.

Chicago got little going against Cole. One of their three hits came when Fowler was credited with a double after shortstop Jordy Mercer lost a popup in the sun.

Kang sent Hector Rondon’s 96 mph fastball into the left-field bleachers for his fourth homer.

“This is a special guy,” Hurdle said. “So when he does things, it’s not like I’m the one who says, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ No, it’s believable.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Despite their dominance, the Cubs are just 4-4 in one-run games. They are 15-3 against the NL Central.

END OF STREAK

Rizzo went 0 for 3, ending the majors’ longest active streak of reaching base at 26 games.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Pirates: LHP Cory Luebke (hamstring) came off the disabled list and RHP A.J. Schugel was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Cubs: OF Matt Szczur (hamstring) is eligible to come off the disabled list Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Pirates: LHP Jonathon Niese (3-2, 5.63 ERA) faces Atlanta RHP Williams Perez (1-0, 3.54) on Monday in Pittsburgh to begin a stretch of 24 straight games outside the NL Central.

Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.03) starts Tuesday against RHP Chase Anderson (1-5, 6.11) and Milwaukee to begin a nine-game trip.


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