Cubs

John Lackey stole a base for the first time ever and it was glorious

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USA TODAY

John Lackey stole a base for the first time ever and it was glorious

John Lackey: Speed demon?

After 15 years in the big leagues, 440 appearances and more than 2,800 innings, the 38-year-old Lackey is still setting career firsts.

After singling with two outs off Homer Bailey in the fourth inning of the Cubs' 7-6 win Wednesday night, Bailey stopped paying attention to Lackey and the veteran took off for second.

Here's the full play, with an absolutely epic and perfectly-crafted "Ricky Bobby" reference from the MLB Twitterers:

Hey, if you ain't first, you're last.

"When I got the hit, [Cubs first base coach Brandon Hyde] was like 'you wanna steal a base?' And I'm like 'heck no, I'm tired,'" Lackey said. "But then after the first pitch, nobody was really watching me and it looked like it was pretty easy, so I just went ahead and went."

Lackey later got picked off second base when he apparently forgot what he was doing and took off toward third on the full-count pitch to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist walked and Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart fired to second.

Lackey was initially called safe but a replay proved he was out.

"I made two bets — one worked, one didn't," Lackey quipped. 

Lackey's good buddy Jon Lester stole his first career base earlier in the season and the two may or may not have a wager on it.

"That's none of your business," Lackey said.

On the mound, Lackey had another opportunity to do something else he's never done before — win six straight starts. After loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, he let up only one run thanks to Kyle Schwarber gunning another guy down at the plate. 

Lackey loaded the bases again in the second inning, but got out of that jam, too and wound up tossing six innings with just the solo tally surrendered. He departed with a 6-1 lead, but the Cubs bullpen couldn't hold on, thus ending his own personal winning streak.

Before the game, Joe Maddon was talking about how Lackey may not decide to retire at the end of the year if he finishes strongly. When asked about it after the game, Lackey had his answer ready:

"I didn't say anything about retiring." he said. "Just playing baseball. Taking it one start at a time and see what happens. That'll be a family decision at the end of the year."

One start at a time? More like one stolen base at a time, right?

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”