John Lackey screamed and stomped around Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon, with Cubs catcher Miguel Montero even having to step in to separate the veteran pitcher from home-plate umpire Marty Foster on his way back to the dugout in the middle of the sixth inning.
This had all the makings of a frustrating loss to the Miami Marlins. A tense, clipped, awkward postgame press conference with Lackey seemed inevitable. Until the Cubs staged a wild comeback that had reporters laughing hysterically and Lackey leaving the interview room on a high note. A 5-4 walk-off win in front of 41,147 fans will do that.
“Fair expectations?” Lackey said, repeating back part of a question. “We’re trying to win the World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut. You know what I mean? We’re trying to get it on. I came here for jewelry.”
This ended in bizarre fashion, with Ben Zobrist drawing a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the ninth inning, forcing in the game-tying run because Marlins closer A.J. Ramos had intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo. With Willson Contreras at the plate, Ramos fired his next pitch into an advertisement on the backstop, allowing Matt Szczur to sprint home and start the celebration.
“We just never quit,” Zobrist said. “All good teams have to believe that when they’re down late in the game, they can come back and win games. This series was huge for us, to be able to believe it for ourselves.”
Dexter Fowler had already scored on a wild pitch from arrow-shooting ex-Cub Fernando Rodney in the eighth inning. Montero – who’s still hitting under .200 – started the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff double off Ramos. The Cubs won a one-run game without using top relievers Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman – while going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and watching Lackey (two doubles) do most of the damage against Miami starter Tom Koehler (one run allowed in six innings).
“We got a group that keeps fighting and keeps competing until the last out,” Lackey said. “Those kind of crazy games can roll over into some positive energy.”
Lackey had the negative body language after serving up the go-ahead, two-run homer to a light-hitting backup catcher/ex-teammate (Jeff Mathis) that snapped a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning. And a pitcher the Cubs wanted for his edgy personality wouldn’t get into what he was jawing about with the umpire.
“I was minding my own business walking off the field,” Lackey said. “He said something to me first. I’m not really one to back down if you want to challenge me.”
That’s why the Cubs spent almost $290 million on free agents like Lackey and Zobrist, to buy their World Series experience, and influence a team now playing with a sense of urgency again.
“It’s August,” Rizzo said. “We know that we only have pretty much a sprint left. It’s not a marathon to get to the playoffs."
The Cubs (66-41) have won five series since the All-Star break, splitting their four crosstown games against the White Sox and leaving for their West Coast flight with almost a double-digit lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the division.
The Cubs will enjoy a day off in the Bay Area and begin a three-game series against the Oakland A’s on Friday night at the Coliseum, knowing that there are no fair or unfair expectations. It’s only World Series or bust.
“I don’t think anybody would be satisfied with anything less,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think the Chicago Cub fans would be satisfied with anything else, either. We know the end goal and we’re a long way from there. We just have to keep playing good baseball and get ourselves in a good position."