ST. LOUIS — They chanted, “Lackey! Lackey! Lackey!”
An old ball-slinger, the rubber mostly gone from his right arm, drank it in. With bubbly and Bud, and something a little harder. The Cubs chanted in their celebration-soaked clubhouse for John Lackey, who’ll turn 39 the day before Game 1 of the World Series, and he smiled as wide as his native Texas.
Chances are, he’ll never pitch another regular-season game. Will he pitch in the playoffs for the Cubs, who won 5-1 over the rival Cardinals on Wednesday to clinch a division title? Well, that we don’t know.
But his friend Jon Lester raised a drink and toasted his guy: “Here’s to a hell of a [expletive] career!”
It was emotional.
The Cubs yelled for a speech, and Lackey, ever the eloquent charmer, looked askance at the media and snarled, “I’ll talk to my boys on the bus.”
Believe it or not, that was kind of emotional, too.
Let’s stay inside the celebration, which began shortly after first baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell — as lucky, playoff-bound for the third time in their three-year big-league careers, as they are good — hoisted a “W” flag on the mound at Busch Stadium.
Between giant walls of plastic, the Cubs hugged and laughed, doused one another’s heads and sprayed one another’s faces; the usual stuff. Yet, there were moments inside this moment that demonstrated one of the most important aspects of this team. No, these Cubs aren’t perfect. They may or may not have the magical mojo that last year’s World Series team had. But the players are together. The culture among the ranks is stronger than oak.
So when Albert Almora Jr., Jon Jay and Ian Happ found one another in the middle of the chaos and embraced — the three of them, at once — they lingered awhile, and it meant something. Here were three players in manager Joe Maddon’s carousel of part-time starters. When one gets the call, chances are at least one of the others does not. On some teams, players in such a position might have friction between them. Not here. Not these Cubs.
“It says a lot about our guys as individuals,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said, looking on amid the spray with pride in his eyes and a dollop of foam fresh on his forehead. “It says that winning is more important to them. No one is entitled here.”
Happ, 23 and two-fisted — talk about the time of one’s…