Windy gritty: Cubs love passionate Lackey

Teammates heap praise, affection on veteran, who's considering retirement after 2017

Windy gritty: Cubs love passionate Lackey

CHICAGO -- He's not exactly an umpire's favorite pitcher. He'll glare if a call doesn't go his way. He's not too fond of opposing batters either. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has known John Lackey since they were together with the Angels, and he says the right-hander hasn't changed.

If Lackey does retire after this season, his 15th in the big leagues, he needs to know one thing: His Cubs teammates love him.

"When he's on the mound, it's take no prisoners, and that's one of the things you can learn from him," Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks said.

Where Lackey fits into the Cubs' postseason plans is still to be determined. He may find himself in the bullpen when Chicago opens the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile on Friday against Washington. Maddon asked the veteran to pitch one inning in relief in the regular-season finale on Sunday against the Reds. It was only the second time in 448 career games that he's done that (also June 27, 2004). It had been 4,844 days between relief outings.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CHC 3, WSH 0 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 7 WSH 6, CHC 3 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 9 CHC 2, WSH 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 11 WSH 5, CHC 0 WATCH
Gm 5 Oct. 12 CHC 9, WSH 8 WATCH

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When the media approached Lackey to ask about Sunday's outing, he dismissed them.

He's irascible, intense and intimidating, but he's backed it up, winning three World Series rings (2002 with the Angels, '13 with the Red Sox and '16 with the Cubs).

"He's a great dude," Cubs closer Wade Davis said. "Playing against him, you definitely saw him on the mound and he's pretty emotional and definitely into it. You hang out in the clubhouse, and he's a real good friend to everybody."

Lackey does like to have fun when he's not pitching. His favorite target lately has been rookie reliever Rob Zastryzny, whom Lackey will joke with good-naturedly.

"He told me during the celebration [last Wednesday], 'Enjoy it, Rob Z, because you never know when it will be your last,'" Zastryzny said. "It makes me think how lucky I am to be here."

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Lackey has some perspective. He missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Remember, he isn't here for a haircut, but wants the jewelry.

Jake Arrieta could write a book about everything he's learned from Lackey in the two seasons they've been together on the Cubs.

"He's not afraid of anything," Arrieta said. "He's got the composure, he's got the demeanor, he's got the competitiveness. He crosses the line sometimes, but that's what we like to see. He says it a lot, 'I've got to go to a different place out there.'

"He likes to rag on himself sometimes, but this guy has been really, really good for 15 years. Just watching him on a daily basis -- this guy is 38 years old and he's busting his [butt] in the weight room every single day -- cardio, moving weights, working on his mobility. This guy, whether he's at the end of his rope or not, he doesn't act like it."

If this is Lackey's last year, he's not saying. Unlike David Ross, who made it clear from Spring Training that he was retiring after the 2016 season, Lackey has only said he wants to talk to his family before announcing his decision.

Lackey K's nine in solid outing

"He'll comment from time to time that this is it for him," Arrieta said. "I'll mess with him all the time and say, 'No, it's not. You're 92, 94 [mph] with a good breaking ball and your body feels good -- you've got at least one more in you.'

"It's a pleasure to play with a guy like that. He's one of the last batches of old school guys still in the game. There's not many of them left."

Maddon knows. He's watched Lackey since the then-rookie started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

"John does all the little histrionics on the field on occasion, but when you're with him all the time and he's not performing, he's an entirely different person," Maddon said. "He's a softie outside of what you see on the field."

A softie?

"That's not a bad thing," said Arrieta, who also is Lackey's neighbor in Austin, Texas. "This guy loves his kids more than anybody I've seen. He's a great father. He's a great human being. ... He messes around that he's going to be a high school pitching coach where our kids are going to school. I think that would be tremendous."

Lackey's dominant start

After the Cubs clinched their second straight NL Central title on Wednesday in St. Louis, Jon Lester stopped the partying to toast Lackey.

"I've had the pleasure to call this guy a teammate for eight years," Lester said in the beer and champagne soaked visitor's clubhouse. "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 had to play with. Tonight was probably his last regular-season start. Here's to one helluva career."

If this is Lackey's last year, the Cubs want to make it memorable.

"The way he's been throwing, he's definitely got another year in him," Hendricks said. "It wasn't surprising [the toast]. We know the possibility is there. He knows he's always welcome in this clubhouse, and we love him here and we'd love to have him here and he can still throw. He's still got a lot in the tank."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.