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Cueto looks to recapture Wrigley Field magic from last year’s MLB Playoffs

CHICAGO — The last time Johnny Cueto pitched at Wrigley Field, he spun a three-hit, one-run masterpiece against the Chicago Cubs last October in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

The Cubs claimed a 1-0 victory that day on a Javier Baez eighth-inning home run and were equally delighted to avoid a second meeting with the San Francisco Giants right-hander in a potential Game 5 showdown.

Chicago rallied with a four-run ninth in Game 4 for a 6-5 victory to clinch the series, launching the Cubs on the way to the NLCS and eventually the World Series.

“I’m telling you, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series for us,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Monday prior to the opener of a four-game series with the Giants. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again.

“I’ll get to see him tomorrow, but that’s OK.”

A little more than seven months later, Cueto is back to face the Cubs on Tuesday for the 25th time. He will go again against left-hander Jon Lester, the winning pitcher in that Oct. 7 NLDS showdown.

Cueto has 9-8 career regular-season record against the Cubs with a 3.24 ERA. Most of those starts came while he was in the same division as Chicago, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds from 2008-15.

He is 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in nine starts this season. After a 3-0 start, he has gone 1-4 with two no-decisions in his past five appearances.

Cueto is coming off a 6-1 Giants loss on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers during which he gave up five runs on eight hits and five runs, struck out six and walked one in six innings. The game also featured a benches-clearing brawl.

“I don’t think he pitched his sharpest,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said after that contest.

Cueto is a two-time All-Star (2014 and 2016). The Giants are 6-3 in his starts so far this year.

Lester (2-2, 3.57 ERA) makes his 10th start of the season on Tuesday. He is coming off his second win of the season, a 9-5 Cubs victory over the Reds on Thursday.

Lester allowed six hits and three runs over six-plus innings in that game, striking out five. He remains unbeaten in his last 18 Wrigley Field starts and is 13-0 in that span.

“We’re trending in the right direction, which is good,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Lester is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five career regular-season starts against San Francisco. He threw a complete game in his first start against the Giants on June 27, 2010, as well as his most recent regular-season outing vs. San Francisco on Sept. 2, 2016.

He tossed eight shutout innings and allowed five hits against the Giants in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS.

The Giants were 1-5 at Wrigley Field last season, and they are 2-9 against the Cubs over their last 11 in Chicago even after a 6-4 win on Monday.


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