By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The image of John Lackey disappearing into the thin Texas air was broached on Wednesday before the grizzled veteran Cubs right-hander made his second start of the season.
Manager Joe Maddon reminded that Lackey was all business when he hits the mound. With Lackey at 38 years old and starting his second season with the Cubs, it appears he’s here to win another title.
Lackey entertained the masses in 2016 with quality pitching and a toughness that was welcome at Wrigley Field. That’s just what he was brought to Chicago for, and he continued to do so in the Cubs’ 2-0 loss to the Dodgers at home Wednesday night.
“We talked about that from the beginning,” Maddon said. “The fact that on some Tuesday night when the other team isn’t ready, you have to have that edge to play well. We knew Johnny would provide it. So he is all of that. Even when he was a rookie he was like that. One day, he will retire to West Texas. You will never see him again. You might see him in a photograph riding a horse. In the meantime, he is alive and doing really well right here. He definitely still has that edge.”
Lackey started his second straight game in the hole. He allowed a leadoff home run to Andrew Toles while laboring 32 pitches in the first inning. He was at 57 pitches by the second frame. However, that stop him from gutting out six innings and keeping his team in the game. He threw 106 pitches while allowing just one run and four hits in a 10-strikeout performance.
Lackey also was in trouble early in his first start, giving up three first-inning runs in St. Louis last week. He surrendered just one more run, pitching six innings and getting the win. Getting behind may tick Lackey off, but he hardly ever gets out of sync.
That’s the edge and energy he provides every start.
“That was a great effort by him,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said of Lackey. “He had a little hiccup the first batter of the game; he then went out and dealt. That is John Lackey. The guy just will go out there and compete his butt off. That is why we love him.”
Lackey was motivated by the first pitch of the game, which he thought home plate umpire Greg Gibson missed. Toles would then follow with a homer, with the sequence of pitches Lackey had to throw changed.
“His stuff was really good,” Maddon said. “I told him he was getting better game in progress. That first pitch might have been a strike. I think it threw him off a little bit. Once he regrouped, he was outstanding after that.”
As always, Lackey was matter of fact about his night and first loss of 2017, which could’ve been a win if Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo weren’t robbed of home runs by the wind gusting in.
Lackey knows well about pitching in Wrigley.
“Toles hit the ball well,” Lackey said. “We had a couple guys who crushed the ball. That’s just a part of playing here.”
Wednesday was about the jewelry that Lackey so desired. The Cubs received their championship hardware from their World Series run. That’s what led him to Chicago.
The players, including Lackey, were thrilled with the new championship rings.
“This is heavy,” Lackey said of the ring. “It’s really nice. I have been fortunate to have a couple more, but this is really next level. The whole team wants to say thanks to the Ricketts. It’s pretty sick.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.