Cubs

John Lackey and Willson Contreras go absolutely bonkers on home plate umpire after insane call in Cubs-Cardinals

John Lackey and Willson Contreras go absolutely bonkers on home plate umpire after insane call in Cubs-Cardinals

John Lackey sprinted toward home plate, absolutely screaming at home plate umpire Jordan Baker.

Willson Contreras did a complete circle around Baker, needing both Joe Maddon and Javy Baez to hold him back.

Those will become the lasting images from an absolutely wild occurrence at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon.

Lackey was on the mound in the fifth inning against Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, locked in a 1-1 ballgame with runners on first and second and two outs.

On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Lackey floated a breaking ball right down the middle of the plate. Martinez put his head down and started walking toward the dugout, conceding to the strikeout.

But Baker did not call the pitch a strike. Instead, it was Ball 3 and Martinez had new life.

Lackey wasted no time laying into Baker, screaming and pointing at Martinez, who was several steps toward the first-base dugout. 

"He almost walked to the grass," Lackey said. "He knew he was out."

For reference, here is where the pitch was located:

Contreras and Maddon both said the second-year catcher got crossed up on the pitch and wasn't expecting a breaking ball, but Lackey said there was no cross-up.

Lackey continued screaming at Baker and Maddon came from out of the dugout in an effort to calm things down.

"He missed the pitch," Lackey said. "It's a big spot in a huge game and he missed the pitch."

Lackey remained in the game, but on his next pitch, Martinez singled to right-center, plating Kolten Wong with the go-ahead run. Lackey sprinted in to backup the play at home, yelling at Baker the whole way. 

When the play was over and time called, Contreras also apparently said something to Baker and was subsequently tossed, resulting in this immediate reaction:

Maddon was already on his way out of the dugout and tried to hold Contreras back before Baez intervened and kept his teammate back.

Contreras' mask bounced and hit Baker in the foot, but the Cubs catcher apologized afterwards and said he clearly wasn't trying to hit or hurt anybody, just was frustrated in the moment and threw his mask on the ground, never intending for it to hit the umpire.

The end result was both pitcher and catcher ejected in the fifth inning of a crucial game in the pennant race. But the Cubs rebounded with seven runs in the sixth inning, cruising to an 8-2 victory. While the Cubs didn't place too much emphasis on the ejections working as a spark, Kris Bryant felt otherwise:

"It was a nice little spark for us and some energy that we all needed," Bryant said. "Yeah, the crowd got into it. I mean, we're always in the game, but anytime you see your teammates or brothers going out like that, getting a little fired up, it's not a terrible thing. I think it ultimately helped us."

Lackey is 38 years old and in his 14th big-league season, but he's always been a fierce competitor and Maddon knows he should never expect any other reaction to an umpire's call.

"Impossible," Maddon said. "I could say I'd like to see that, but why would I even think that? That's the definition of insanity. Why would I think he's gonna change in that particular moment? So God bless him.

"It's who Johnny is. I never want him to change. He's not gonna change, so why even expect that? It happened, we reacted and the rest of the group came together."

Does Lackey regret his actions?

"Not really, no," he said. "It's a pretty big spot right there. It cost me a big-league win; those don't grow on trees."

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: