Cubs

John Lackey thinking World Series after wild comeback win for Cubs: ‘I came here for jewelry’

John Lackey thinking World Series after wild comeback win for Cubs: ‘I came here for jewelry’

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.”

[MORE: The value of Jason Hammel as Cubs develop Willson Contreras]

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."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

Tony Andracki goes 1-on-1 with manager Joe Maddon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The Cubs manager touches on his efforts to put art back into the game, his biggest challenge in 2019, the Cubs' sense of urgency and his thoughts about Matt Nagy and the Bears (:30).

Plus, we catch up with Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who discusses internal team leadership, whether or not the Cubs are close to a deal and how Maddon is changing up his coaching style (5:45).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

LAS VEGAS — All this talk about the Cubs' desire for more leadership on the roster has raised several questions and chief among them is wondering what it says about the core players already on the team.

If the Cubs have a leadership void — as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said this month — does that mean players like Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez are not leaders?

Epstein confirmed Tuesday afternoon at the MLB Winter Meetings that the Cubs feel they have plenty of leadership on the roster, but they're looking more for that one guy — a veteran who has been around the block and isn't afraid to call somebody out or hold teammates accountable. The David Ross or Jon Jay mold, as Hoyer said Monday.

Rizzo is the face of the franchise and the driving force in the lineup every day, but he's still only 29 and developing as a leader. 

Heyward isn't real vocal, but when he does speak up, it carries a lot of weight — as the famous Rain Delay Speech indicates. 

Zobrist can talk hitting for hours and it's easy to see him becoming a coach whenever his playing career is done. But he isn't super vocal by nature, either.

Baez is an interesting case as he is quickly becoming an impactful leader for this team. In the process of putting up a huge breakout 2018 campaign that earned him a second-place finish in NL MVP voting, Baez became one of the most outspoken players in the dugout and clubhouse.

His instincts and baseball IQ are off the charts and he sees the game on a whole other level, which lends a different viewpoint to the squad. 

When the Cubs were handed a disappointing and abrupt early offseason, it was Baez that stood at his locker for nearly a half hour, ranting about how the team lacked urgency and an edge for most of the year.

Baez is starting to emerge as a true leader, but March 28, 2019 will only represent his third big-league Opening Day and he still has played in just 527 games at baseball's highest level.

"Javy is as respected as anyone in that clubhouse and is just starting to find his voice," Epstein said. "That's probably the next step for him — speaking up a little bit more. But by the way he plays the game, how much he cares about winning, how tough he is, he's got everyone's respect and attention."

Epstein said Rizzo is making it his personal mission to take his leadership to another level.

Epstein and Hoyer and the rest of the front office are taking responsibility for the "miscalculation" that the 2018 Cubs did not need — or have room on the roster — for one of those leaders.

Now they're trying to fix that for 2019 by attempting to add the right guy into the mix.

But what type of leader are the Cubs seeking?

"It's really certain leadership you need from the right bench guy who's not expecting a ton more playing time, who's content at where he is in his career — he's just completely invested in winning, invested in his teammates," Epstein said. "Those little difficult conversations that you have to have sometimes. Or bringing energy on a day where the everyday guys are dragging.

"That's an important role on a club, but please don't take it the wrong way that we think there's some deficiency with our position players. We have incredible guys and a lot of character there and some leaders — they're just continuing to grow into it."

What is it that Ross provided this club that they haven't been able to duplicate since he left?

Here's a perfect example:

"David was unusual, because Dave would grab guys walking off the field after a play," Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "And I would be entertained in my corner watching this whole thing unfold. I would address it afterwards. There's nothing wrong with that. I know that some of the guys were afraid to come in the dugout. And still that's OK, because they knew David was on their side.

"Yes, we want that. I would say that every team out here wants that and they're hard to find."