PITTSBURGH — John Lackey fielded phone calls from plenty of interested teams in the offseason. Yet the veteran pitcher opted for the Chicago Cubs.
Sure, the money was good. The opportunity was even better.
“I had some pretty good offers from other people and I chose this one for a reason,” Lackey said. “It’s all here.”
Looks like it.
Lackey worked through five innings, Chris Coghlan hit a three-run triple and the Cubs held off the staggering Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4 on Tuesday night. Coghlan’s second-inning drive off the wall in right-center against Ryan Vogelsong (3-7) gave the NL Central champions all the offense they would need to win for the seventh time in their last eight games. Chicago improved to 101-56, the club’s highest victory total since it won 104 games in 1910.
Pittsburgh was eliminated from postseason contention when San Francisco won later Tuesday, ending a run of three-straight playoff appearances.
Dexter Fowler added an RBI double for the Cubs. Lackey (11-8) worked around five hits and three walks to win his last regular season start. The 37-year-old finished his 14th season 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and has looked fresh since a stint on the disabled list to rest his right shoulder. Lackey is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA since coming off the DL earlier this month.
“The rest was good for him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s going into the postseason well rested. Just got to keep these guys sharp.”
Lackey’s next start will be in the playoffs, a time of year the two-time World Series champion knows well. He’s 8-5 with a 3.11 ERA in the postseason and doesn’t think Maddon will need to do anything too extravagant to keep him engaged during the lengthy downtime.
“I don’t know about (simulation) games,” Lackey said. “I can throw a bullpen and be just fine. I don’t need to see somebody up there. I know how to throw the ball over the plate.”
Felix Pena recorded the final two outs for his first career save after Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run single off Justin Grimm to get the Pirates within two. Pena struck out Sean Rodriguez with the bases loaded to end it.
“Overall we did play pretty well,” Maddon said. “We got everybody involved, which is good. There’s a lot to be happy with.”
Vogelsong allowed four runs in five innings and fell to 0-3 with a 9.55 ERA in September. The 39-year-old managed to get out of a two-on situation in the first but couldn’t in the second. A hit batter and two walks loaded the bases for Coghlan. The outfielder narrowly missed his first career grand slam when the ball landed just below the top of the fence. He sped to third for his second triple since rejoining Chicago in a trade with Oakland in June.
“Just an unacceptable start,” Vogelsong said. “No excuses. Just unacceptable.”
Lackey made sure it stood, though not without some shaky moments. He needed a double play to thwart a potentially big inning in the second and his defense bailed him out when Jordy Mercer’s line drive with the bases loaded in the fourth went straight to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki, who flipped to second to double off Rodriguez.
The Pirates went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position — both hits coming in the ninth — and left 11 men on base.
Pittsburgh reliever Juan Nicasio gave up two runs in the ninth and failed to record a strikeout for the first time in 34 appearances, ending his club-record streak.
Cubs: OF Jorge Soler remained in Chicago while dealing with tightness in his side but could rejoin the team in Cincinnati on Friday. Maddon said an MRI on Soler came back negative, but with the division already clinched there’s no rush to get Soler back on the field. “Side bothers him, nothing horrible, nothing to be highly concerned about,” Maddon said. “I don’t know what we think right now, except that it wasn’t bad.”
Pirates: LF Starling Marte remained out of the starting lineup with back stiffness and grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the fifth. The All-Star has just three plate appearances — all as a pinch hitter — since Sept. 5. “My brothers are out there battling and I wish I could get out there with them,” Marte said.
Cubs: Jake Arrieta (18-7, 2.85 ERA) makes his final start of the regular season. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 12 career starts against the Pirates.
Pirates: Rookie Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.49) faces the Cubs for the second time this season. Chicago touched him for four runs in four innings of a 10-5 loss on June 19.