SAN FRANCISCO — John Lackey was signed by the Cubs with the postseason in mind. Specifically, for events like Game 4 of National League Division Series Tuesday.
After the Giants defeated the Cubs 6-5 in 13 innings Game 3 Monday night, they find themselves a win away from tying the best-of-five at two games apiece. The Cubs will turn to the battle-tested and well-rested 37-year-old Lackey to give them a chance to win on the road and avoid a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Signed last December to a two-year, $32 million deal, Lackey brings an 8-5 record and 3.11 ERA in 23 postseason appearances, including 20 starts, into the game. That’s a nice, tested piece to have behind Cy Young candidates Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks and 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who pitched six innings of two-run ball.
Lackey made a name for himself as a big-game pitcher early, making two starts as a 23-year-old rookie for the Angels in the 2002 World Series and allowing one run in five innings and getting the win over the Giants in Game 7. He is the only player who participated in that one who’s still active.
Maddon was Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s bench coach then.
“It’s unusual that you definitely want to give the ball in a Game 7 to a guy with that little experience,’’ Maddon said. “But we felt good about it. John was such a great battler.’’
Lackey, 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA in 29 starts this season, last pitched Sept. 27, going five innings and allowing one run in Pittsburgh.
“There’s not a lot of difference between him then and now. He’s actually in better shape now. He looks better than he did in 2002. Better diet, better lifestyle.’’
In 2013, Lackey returned to the World Series and won the clinching Game 6 over the Cardinals with the Red Sox. His appetite for World Series titles hasn’t been satisfied, though. He has been whistling a World Series tune throughout most of his first year with the Cubs.
“From Day 1, we have been talking about winning the World Series,’’ Lackey said. “That’s the goal. We want to be the last one standing, and that has not changed.’’
That first one now “seems like a long time ago,’’ Lackey said. “It will have nothing to do with tomorrow.’’
Lackey’s slider this season has been rated among the best in baseball by various analytics, so there’s that. And having pitched on that type of big stage many times should work in his favor, as well.
“There is that, for sure,’’ he said. “I feel like there are some guys that are better in bigger games. 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.’’