Lackey brings playoff savvy to Game 4

Veteran righty set for 21st postseason start, first with Cubs

Lackey brings playoff savvy to Game 4

SAN FRANCISCO -- John Lackey was four days past his 24th birthday when, on three days' rest, he took command of a Game 7 World Series start to lift the Angels to their first World Series championship. The year was 2002. His opponent? San Francisco.

Lackey is 37 now, the oldest player on a Cubs roster filled with players who weren't yet teenagers when Lackey won the first of his two World Series rings. He can move closer to capturing a third by pitching the Cubs into the National League Championship Series tonight, when Lackey makes his 21st career postseason start. And once again, it's the Giants who stand in his way.

Unable to finish a sweep of the Giants on Monday, the Cubs will hand the ball to Lackey against left-hander Matt Moore in Game 4 of the NL Division Series (8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 CT on FS1). It will mark Lackey's fifth career postseason start against the Giants.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 CHC 1, SF 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 8 CHC 5, SF 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 SF 6, CHC, 5 (13) video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 CHC 6, SF 5 video

"I've had several postseason starts, and one doesn't really affect the next one," Lackey said. "You kind of know what to expect on the outside, like as far as the flyovers and the more time in between innings. But once you get in the game, it's another game, another challenge."

These October opportunities, which can be elusive to so many, have come with remarkable regularity for the Texas-born right-hander. He's advanced to the playoffs nine times with four teams over a 14-year career. His eight playoff wins rank second behind CC Sabathia (nine) for most among active pitchers.

When he earned that Game 7 victory 14 years ago, he became the first rookie pitcher to win Game 7 of the World Series since Pittsburgh's Babe Adams in 1909. Lackey's bench coach that season in Anaheim just so happens to be his manager now -- Joe Maddon.

"John was so young," Maddon recalled, when asked about Lackey's first postseason impression. "It's unusual that you definitely want to give the ball in Game 7 to a guy with that little experience. But we felt good about it. I tell you, there's not a whole lot of difference between him then and now. The guy hasn't changed at all. He's just in better shape."

This will be the second consecutive year that Lackey has drawn a Game 4 NLDS start. The circumstances are quite different, however. Last year, he returned on three days' rest to try to help the Cardinals avoid elimination at the hands of the Cubs. He lasted three innings in a loss.

Lackey will be taking the mound today having had 13 days to get ready. He pitched five innings in that final regular-season tuneup and allowed one run.

His decision to sign a two-year deal with the Cubs last offseason was made with the postseason in mind. He had watched the Cubs' ascension from the eyes of a rival last year, and, with his career winding down, wanted to find his way back into October. It's a stage he's learned to love.

"I feel like there are some guys that are better in bigger games, for sure," Lackey said. "But I think that over the years, I found that you're going to feel something different, you're going to be a little more amped up. And to fight that sometimes can be counterproductive. If you embrace it and use it, it can take you to another level."

Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.