John Lackey melts down, blames ump; Cubs crush Cards 8-2 anyway

Umpire Jordan Baker is so bad. How bad is he? So bad, the Cubs should think about throwing a parade in his honor. Or at least letting him sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before the end of the weekend.

John Lackey and Willson Contreras are such babies. Their kicking and screaming in the Cubs’ 8-2 victory Friday against the Cardinals was so over-the-top ridiculous, all it accomplished was igniting a comeback for their most important win of the season.

Up was down and black was white at Wrigley Field in the opening game of an all-important series between division rivals. The Cubs’ starting pitcher and rising-star catcher melted down in the fifth inning of a nip-and-tuck game, putting their team at risk of a bad day . . . or maybe a terrible series . . . or, gasp, a stretch run gone completely awry.

Nope. Lackey and Contreras got themselves kicked out, and an inning later, their teammates were kicking the toasted ravioli out of the Cardinals with seven mighty big runs.

Willson Contreras heaves his catcher's mask to the ground as umpire Jordan Baker gives him the heave-ho in Friday's 8-2 Cubs victory over the Cardinals. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“I think it was a nice little spark for us,” third baseman Kris Bryant said, “and some energy that we needed.”

Hey, whatever works.

What made this one go haywire? With Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez at bat and facing a two-strike count against Lackey, a pitch danced over the plate — easily inside any “K zone” — and into Contreras’ glove. Strike three, right? Martinez even took several steps toward the visitors’ dugout, yet Baker just stood there.

An incredulous Lackey nearly got tossed right then and there.

With a runner on second, Martinez stepped back into the box and singled home the go-ahead run on the next pitch. Lackey, lighting up Baker as he ran in to back up home plate, was ejected before the runner even scored.

 

Then things really got nuts as Baker rang up Contreras, too. Contreras flung his mask into the dirt, but it bounced up and made contact with Baker’s leg — instantly raising questions about a potential suspension.

“I don’t have any concern on my part,” said Contreras, who nevertheless apologized to fans, Major League Baseball and Baker.

After the game, Lackey was still doing a slow burn.

“It’s a pretty big spot right there,” he said. “[Baker] cost me a big-league win. Those don’t grow on trees.”

That’s especially true, of course, during a pennant race. Lackey clearly had a hand in costing himself what would’ve been his 12th victory, but the bottom line is the first-place Cubs put themselves four games in front of the Cardinals with a mere 15 to play. The Brewers are three back.

The Cubs are 9-4 against the Cardinals, 6-1 at Wrigley. As off-the-rails as this game got — on a day when the Cubs passed the 3 million mark in attendance for the second consecutive year — it felt a bit like order had been restored. The Cardinals are still threats to the Cubs, but it has been pretty well established how these rivals stack up head-to-head.

As for Lackey’s temper, well, it’s pretty well established, too. Wouldn’t it have been better if the 15-year veteran had gotten ahold of his anger and stuck around in a critical game?

“Impossible,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I could say I’d like to see that, but why would I even think that? That’s the definition of insanity. Why would I think he’s going to change in that moment?”

Maybe he’ll be a calmer, cooler pitcher in his 40s. Or his 50s?

Up was down. Black was white. It couldn’t have worked out any better if the Cubs had drawn it up that way.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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