John Lackey’s elimination-game experience has apparently taught him he has no need for chit chat.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced late Monday night that the veteran pitcher would make his fourth career start with his team facing postseason elimination as Lackey faces the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series on Tuesday afternoon. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination after an 8-6 loss Monday to the Cubs in Game 3, Matheny is opting for Lackey only three days after he last pitched. Friday’s Game 1 victor, Lackey is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in his three previous elimination-game starts. But the veteran insists none of his experience means anything.
“What I’ve done in the past has nothing to do with tomorrow,” Lackey said. “No need to get all dramatic. There’s no time for that. It’s time to go to work.
“The past has nothing to do with tomorrow. Gotta go out and do it again.”
Lackey is correct: the past means little. He hasn’t been in a similar spot in almost six years. Many of the current Cubs hitters were still in their late teens when Lackey earned a no-decision in 6 2/3 innings (three runs allowed) against the New York Yankees as the Los Angeles Angels staved off elimination in Game 5 of the 2009 American League Championship Series.
But teammate Jason Heyward said it’s Lackey’s experience in those contests that has St. Louis confident it can rally from its 2-1 series deficit. After all, Lackey lifted the Angels to a Game 7 victory with five strong innings in the 2002 World Series. He also pitched well but took the loss after allowing two runs in seven innings in Game 4 of the 2008 ALDS.
“I’m confident in all of our pitchers,” Heyward said. “And I like Lack because he’s had a lot of experience doing this in the postseason, in season and we’re going to have fun doing this behind him.”
Lackey not only dominated the Cubs with 7 1/3 two-hit innings on Friday, he’s been one of Matheny’s go-to guys in a very strong rotation this season. He finished the regular season 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts. The veteran’s efficient effort Monday — he threw 86 pitches — made Matheny’s decision an easy one.
“He's proven it all season long, guy we go to in big situations and (Tuesday) is a big situation and he's ready to go on short rest, and we were able to get him out a little bit earlier than what he's been accustomed to,” Matheny said. “He's had enough rest, and it's time to go.”
Lackey agrees as he noted that pitch counts “are out the window this time of year.” The right-hander would prefer the series was already over but reluctantly agreed he appreciates the opportunity to pitch in big spots.
“I don’t have time to think about all that right now, I’m trying to get ready and win a baseball game,” Lackey said. “I want to win championships. I want to be on a good team. Got a chance here still and want to try to keep it moving.”