John Lackey’s retirement announced in Jon Lester’s emotional tribute?

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Jon Lester and John Lackey embrace in the Cubs’ clubhouse after clinching the division title Wednesday night.

ST. LOUIS – If this wasn’t a retirement party for John Lackey in the Cubs’ clubhouse Wednesday night, somebody forgot to tell an emotional Jon Lester, who addressed the team with a tribute to his closest friend in baseball – with what must have been a sting of champagne in his eyes.

After calling Lackey over to gathered teammates in the corner of a booze-slicked clubhouse, Lester yelled out: “He didn’t come here for no [freaking] haircut, boys!”

Then this: “He’s one of the best teammates, one of the best people, I’ve ever got to play with. Tonight was probably his last regular-season start. Here’s to one hell of a career!”

When it was Lackey’s turn to talk he deferred.

“I’ll talk to the boys on the bus, man,” Lackey said.

Lackey, 38, has talked about how he’ll retire – “just not show up the next year” – but steered clear of specifics as he pitched through a walk year that he officially extended by beating the Cardinals 5-1 on Wednesday.

He wouldn’t talk to media about it Wednesday either. But Lester believes this last playoff run is the last major-league hurrah for the three-time champion who pitched Game 7 as an Angels rookie in 2002, won again with the Red Sox in 2013 and then won the most coveted World Series ring in history with the Cubs last year.

Along the way, he’s been an often-terse, sometimes controversial figure in the middle of the chicken-and-beer collapse in Boston in 2011 – an easy-to-ignite personality on the mound, who has been critical of teammates’ mistakes and as recently as two starts ago got ejected after a meltdown with an ump.

“I think the world of him as a teammate, as a professional, as a grinder,” said team president Theo Epstein, who signed him as a free agent both in Boston and Chicago. “He’s the one guy whose reputation inside the clubhouse and his reputation outside the clubhouse is the most divergent of anyone I’ve been around.”

Lester, also a teammate in Boston, called him “family.”

“It’s not a rallying cry,” Lester said of the clubhouse tribute. “But I know he wants to win just as much as everybody else here. That’s something you can’t teach. You can’t teach competitiveness. You can’t teach balls. You can’t teach that fire.”

Lester seems sure of Lackey’s retirement.

“If he does end up pitching somewhere, then he owes me some beers,” he said. “I’m sure he could, but I just wanted to do that just to kind of repay everything that he’s done for me.

“If that is it – I think it is; I don’t know; he hasn’t said – I wanted to be a part of it.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com


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