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No anger issues here: Cubs let pitcher John Lackey be himself

Cubs pitcher John Lackey, who has been in the big leagues for 14 years, fields media questions Friday before Game 3 of the World Series in Chicago.
(Elsa Garrison / Getty Images)

America will get another chance to see the raging bull that is John Lackey when the Chicago Cubs right-hander starts Game 4 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field Saturday night. Parents watching with young children might want to keep a finger on the mute button.

When Cubs second baseman Javier Baez threw away a potential double-play grounder in the first inning of a 10-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Lackey screamed several obscenities, a display of frustration that, to the uninitiated, seemed an act of petulance.

When Cubs Manager Joe Maddon pulled Lackey from that Oct. 19 game in the fifth inning after the pitcher issued a pair of leadoff walks with a 5-0 lead, Lackey looked incredulous, asking his field boss, “Are you … kidding me?” The word in the middle of that sentence cannot be printed in this newspaper.

Those who watched Lackey pitch for the Angels from 2002-2010 were hardly surprised by his reaction to Baez’s error. Baez, no doubt, felt the same wrath that many Angels infielders felt when they booted balls behind him.

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And Maddon is no stranger to Lackey’s invective. He was the Angels’ bench coach for Lackey’s first four years in Anaheim and saw how Manager Mike Scioscia often needed a crowbar to pry the ball from Lackey, whose pride matches his ferocity. There is little Maddon can do to douse Lackey’s competitive fires.

“It’s John,” Maddon said. “He vibrates at that frequency. You know that. He’s an edgy human being. He’s an edgy baseball player. So if you’re surprised by it, that’s your fault. John’s always been that guy. He gets angry.”

Lackey, who signed a two-year, $32-million deal with Chicago last winter, appeared to show up Baez, a 23-year-old who has made some of the best defensive displays of this postseason. But Baez responded the way most of the young Cubs have all season: He was unfazed.

“I think they handle it really well, actually,” Maddon said. “I don’t think they cower to any of that.”

Rookie catcher Willson Contreras, 24, echoed those sentiments even after Lackey growled at him after a catcher’s interference call allowed Josh Reddick to reach base in Game 4 of the NLCS.

“Once I got here, I realized how Lackey acts,” Contreras said last week. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve just got to deal with it. I don’t care if he showed me up or not.

“I’m just trying to play the game as hard as I can. He knows that I’ll be there to do my best for him. He’s just a gamer, and everybody knows that. He wants to win.”

Maddon said in spring training that he hoped Lackey, 38, would “bring a little edge to the group.” Lackey has not disappointed.

“We have a couple of those guys — him, David [Ross], Jon Lester to a certain degree — we have this nice edginess about us,” Maddon said. “But John Lackey, specifically, the day he pitches, man, he’s a different cat. The players know there’s no messing around when he’s pitching.

“They know how John is and how he can be. He holds people accountable to the moment when he’s out there, but I like it. And a lot of our young guys, I think, having had the opportunity at a young age to play behind him or with him, it’s going to help them as they move down the road a little bit, too.”

Lackey has been in the big leagues for 14 years, compiling a 176-135 record and 3.88 earned-run average for four teams, and he’s been even better in the postseason, with an 8-5 record and 3.26 ERA in 25 games, 22 of them starts.

He has also notched two World Series-clinching victories, in Game 7 as a rookie for the Angels in 2002 and Game 6 for the Boston Red Sox in 2013.

So, he’s not about to change now.

“When I’m on the mound, I’m out there competing, I’m trying to win,” Lackey said earlier this season. “I’m not really that concerned about what people think.”

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna


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