By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Long before Joe Maddon saw John Lackey as a gutsy veteran, he got to know a young pitcher establishing himself in his big league career.
Maddon was there for the baseball upbringing of a 23-year-old Lackey back in 2002 with the Anaheim Angels. As the team’s bench coach, Maddon could already see the fiery demeanor that would come to define Lackey’s 16-year career and also came to know the man behind the intense scowl.
On Thursday night, the Cubs’ season ended with an 11-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 the National League Championship Series. Lackey entered in the fourth inning of a 7-0 game and pitched two innings of relief before walking off the mound for what may be the final time in his big league career.
Lackey turns 39 on Monday and just completed the final year of his contract with the Cubs. Maddon knows retirement is certainly possible for Lackey, so he took a trip down memory lane to 2002 with those World Series champion Angels.
“John and I go way back,” Maddon began. “John and I were together with the Angels in the 2002 World Series team. At that time I was the bench coach. The bench coach has more liberties as opposed to the manager. So I used to be able to go out drinking with the boys a little bit back then. So John and (Brendan) Donnelly and (Ben) Weber, and all those guys, Adam Kennedy, great guys. I got to know them really well.
“So it’s really special for me with John. I think that might be it — I’m not a hundred percent sure he’s not coming back next year. But the competitive component, what you see when he’s pitching right now, it’s nothing new. When he gets upset or the histrionics or gesticulations or whatever, that’s John. But he’s always been that dude. And if you’re his teammate, you absolutely love him. He’s got the biggest heart in the world.”
Lackey is a three-time World Series champion with a career 188-147 record and 3.92 ERA. His was a big-game performer in the playoffs, registering a 3.36 ERA in 28 playoff appearances, including 23 starts.
“Hopefully it’s not (the end of his career), but if it is, having that chance to be with him in that moment is pretty special for me,” Maddon said. “Maybe not special for him, but special for me.”