All eyes Monday night were on right fielder Jason Heyward and his much-anticipated return to Busch Stadium. But it was another former St. Louis Cardinal who stole the show.
Right-hander John Lackey allowed no runs on four hits, walked one and struck out 11 to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 5-0 victory over the Cardinals. Lackey also chipped in with a run-scoring single against Mike Leake in a three-run seventh.
“It was a little weird at the beginning, warming up in the other bullpen, that sort of thing,” said Lackey (3-0), who was 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA for the Cardinals last season. “I had a great time when I played here. No hard feelings on that situation. They went in a different direction and I ended up in a great place.”
The victory over the Cardinals gave Lackey, 37, at least one win over every major-league team. Asked where that milestone ranked in his list of career accomplishments, Lackey said: “I didn’t even know that, so I guess not that high.”
It was a little weird at the beginning, warming up in the other bullpen, that sort of thing. I had a great time when I played here. No hard feelings on that situation. They went in a different direction and I ended up in a great place.
Chicago Cubs pitcher John Lackey on facing his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals
Lackey’s 11 strikeouts were one shy of his career-high, set twice.
“I knew he had some punchouts. I didn’t realize it was that many,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “Everything was working. His fastball velocity was good, his fastball command was very good and the breaking pitches, you could see their swings. The ball was definitely moving late. He had everything going on.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny credited Lackey.
“He was good,” Matheny said. “Guys were having trouble picking him up. He had a good fastball. You could tell he was amped up, and the ball was coming out of his hand very well. He was locating it, and he got us to expand the zone and got a lot of chases.”
Maddon knew what he could expect from Lackey.
“We talked it before the game, the focus he was going to have tonight,” Maddon said. “You saw it. He’s on top of his game right there. Ninety-one pitches, seven innings, real quality pitches all night long. Leake was matching him pitch for pitch, and then Dexter (Fowler) changed the game entirely.”
He was good. Guys were having trouble picking him up. He had a good fastball. You could tell he was amped up, and the ball was coming out of his hand very well. He was locating it, and he got us to expand the zone and got a lot of chases.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny on John Lackey
Fowler’s leadoff homer in the sixth snapped a scoreless tie and put the Cubs ahead to stay. Leake (0-2) allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in seven innings.
The Cardinals’ best chance to break through against Lackey came in the fifth when they had runners at second and third with one out. But Lackey struck out Leake and Matt Carpenter.
“(Carpenter) is a great hitter,” Lackey said. “That was definitely a big challenge right there, to have him up there with runners in scoring position. I was fortunate to make a couple of good pitches and get out of it.”
Lackey is 12-4 with a 1.94 ERA in 23 career starts at Busch Stadium.
“Not bad,” Lackey said. “It’s a good pitcher’s ballpark, especially for this division. I feel like it’s probably by far the best place to pitch in the division as far as size and not giving up homers.”
It’s kind of a rivalry game playing against the team you played with. But we’ve got a long way to go. It’s just one of 162. We’ve got to keep playing good baseball. We’ve got a pretty good team over here. We’ll keep getting after it.
Pitcher John Lackey
Lackey acknowledged the victory meant “a little bit more, for sure” since it came against the Cardinals.
“It’s kind of a rivalry game playing against the team you played with,” he said. “But we’ve got a long way to go. It’s just one of 162. We’ve got to keep playing good baseball. We’ve got a pretty good team over here. We’ll keep getting after it.”
Lackey said the Cardinals didn’t make much of an attempt to re-sign him beyond making a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. Lackey rejected it and became a free agent, and the Cardinals gained a draft pick from the Cubs.
“Honestly, I never heard from them,” Lackey said. “I had a lot of good options. I’m not saying I would have even chose here if it was an option.”
Heyward, meanwhile, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout, but made two stellar plays in right field. Heyward was booed each time he batted and after all three of his putouts.
“You hear it,” Heyward said of the boos. “It’s fun. They don’t boo too often, so it must be somebody important or there must be somebody doing something worth booing. It’s good to know I’m not going through it alone. My teammates are here, my manager’s here, my friends and family are here. It’s all good.”
Lackey, who pitched four years in Boston and knows booing when he hears it, disputed the notion that Cardinals fans booed Heyward.
“I’ve seen booed. That ain’t booed,” Lackey said. “That was pretty soft booing.”