John Lackey’s press conference after Wednesday’s feel-good win over the Tampa Bay Rays lasted two-plus minutes. Within four questions, the old-school grump confirmed how brittle the Cubs rotation is now and what the clubhouse thinks of Joe Maddon’s decision-making.
Maddon went first in the Wrigley Field interview room and revealed that Lackey has been dealing with pain in his right foot, the plantar fasciitis being one reason why the Cubs reconfigured their starters so Jon Lester would pitch an extra time before the All-Star break. Another being that Lackey will take a 5-9 record and a 5.20 ERA into his extended vacation.
“I got a ways before I got to pitch again,” Lackey said after getting a quality start and the no-decision in a 7-3 comeback victory. “I think I’ll be all right. I’m 38 years old, I’m bothered by a lot of things.”
Like the star manager Lackey once knew before Maddon got famous, doing the grunt work as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach on the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series.
Lackey crushed a softball question about Jon Jay, the super-sub who delivered a pinch-hit, game-tying, three-run homer in the sixth inning, driving an Erasmo Ramirez pitch into the left-center field bleachers and showing why he’s so respected among his teammates.
“He’s been everything we needed this year,” Lackey said. “Honestly, I can’t believe he doesn’t play more.”
With that one-liner, Lackey chuckled and walked out of the room.
One of many strange aspects to this 42-42 start is that Theo Epstein’s front office nailed so many offseason moves, except for the inevitable Brett Anderson breakdown that could leave the Cubs vulnerable if Lackey keeps pitching like a guy who’s 38 years old, Lester and Jake Arrieta collapse after back-to-back playoff runs and Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) experiences a setback that pushes him into August or later.
But the Cubs focused on bringing in serious professionals with their own World Series rings, players like Jay (.305 average), plus elite setup guy Koji Uehara (2.93 ERA) and All-Star closer Wade Davis (16-for-16 in save chances), who combined to get the last four outs against the Rays (44-42).
Maddon would probably write it off as Lackey Being Lackey and not feel the need to respond to the passive-aggressive criticism. But the manager nailed the afternoon’s biggest matchup, summoning Uehara with two outs and two runners on and the Cubs clinging to a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Uehara struck out Evan Longoria for the 13th time in 25 career at-bats.
Whenever he retires and disappears to Texas, Lackey’s to-the-point responses and refreshing honesty will be missed.
Lackey knows this isn’t a jumping-off point for a 42-42 team. Just look at how the shorthanded Cubs hung on to beat the Washington Nationals on the road last week, only to hear Miguel Montero torch Arrieta and lose two games in a row. That ninth-inning rally to salvage the split on getaway day in Washington led to two straight losses to a Cincinnati Reds team that’s now in last place.
“I don’t think we do the whole ‘Today is the day,’” Lackey said. “It’s a long season. Just stay in your approach, stay in what you do. We got a lot of talent in the room. And hopefully it works out in the end.”