Cubs

Cubs didn’t come here for a ‘f------ haircut’ and are out to make more World Series history

Cubs didn’t come here for a ‘f------ haircut’ and are out to make more World Series history

ST. LOUIS – “He didn’t come here for no f------ haircut, boys!” Jon Lester screamed inside Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, introducing John Lackey for Wednesday night’s postgame toast as the Cubs celebrated back-to-back National League Central titles.

Lackey waded into the middle of the mosh pit after his Big Boy Game, a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals that eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers from the division race and again showed the defending World Series champs are ready for October.

The Cubs huddled around Lackey in a space that looked like something out of “Breaking Bad” with big plastic sheets taped up against the walls, creating a room within a room and sealing the party off from the lockers around the perimeter.

It got quiet for Lester, who won another World Series ring with Lackey as part of the 2013 Boston Red Sox and sees him much differently than the perceptions of the old cowboy bickering with umpires, throwing his hands up at infielders and firing off one-liners at reporters.

“I’ve had the pleasure to call this guy a teammate for eight years,” Lester said. “I’ve learned a lot about this game from this guy. And I’m sure you guys have, too. He’s one of the best teammates and one of the best people I’ve ever got to play with. Tonight was probably his last regular-season start. Here’s to one hell of a f------ career!”

With that, teammates sprayed beer all over Lackey, the Cubs back in their soaking-wet element after a 43-45 first half that looked like sleepwalking and a 46-24 sprint since the All-Star break. Lackey – the guy who promised he would never go on a David Ross-style retirement party – held up a handle of Crown Royal and poured the whiskey all over his face and down his throat.

The Cubs were feeling no pain, from Lester’s left shoulder to Jake Arrieta’s right hamstring to Lackey’s bubble status on any playoff rotation. There will be more than a week to break down how they match up against the Washington Nationals and where they could be vulnerable.

Bench coach Dave Martinez started the chant “11 more!” As in how many playoff wins before the Cubs can become the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles since the New York Yankees pulled off the three-peat in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Here is one area where the Cubs will have a clear edge over the Nationals: The been-there, done-that confidence they showed in finishing this division race, the never-panic attitude created around those Yankees and the even-year San Francisco Giants.

“We’ve only got one ring,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “We’ve got some work to do on that before we can put ourselves with the Giants, with the Yankees. (But) the experience that we have together is huge. It’s comforting. It’s calming. It’s crazy.”

Arrieta understood what this meant as someone who got traded here from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, transformed into a Cy Young Award winner two years later and will cash in with a nine-figure megadeal this winter as a free agent.

“The front office has done a tremendous job of acquiring players and drafting players and developing those players,” Arrieta said. “If you do those three things successfully, you’re going to put a quality product on the field, year in and year out. That’s what I saw when I first got here, all these young players that were really close to being at the big-league level. Then in ’15, a bunch of these guys get there. And then in ’16, we add more.

“This could be – for a lot of the guys in here – a last go-round in this organization. And we’re going to do everything in our power to take advantage of it.”

Drenched in his blue NL Central T-shirt, blue shorts and Under Armour sandals, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein held a Budweiser can in one hand and a green bottle of champagne in the other, the relaxed picture of someone who doesn’t have to deal with 100-years-and-counting pressure anymore. But this was never going to be only about 1908. It doesn’t matter how they got there. The Cubs are coming now.

“It’s opportunity,” Epstein said. “I don’t know, but I assume people aren’t picking us to win the whole thing. That doesn’t really matter. Our guys love the adrenaline. They love big games. They love competition at the highest level, so it’s an opportunity to go out and make some history.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.