ST. LOUIS -- When these two clubs last met in October, John Lackey took the mound on three days' rest, trying to will the National League Division Series back to St. Louis for a decisive fifth game. It took 189 days for Lackey to make that return to Busch Stadium, and this time he showed up in blue.
He may have traded sides in the rivalry, but Lackey's dominance under the Arch continued. The right-hander stymied his former team to lift the Cubs to a 5-0 victory on Monday in the first of their 19 regular-season meetings against the Cardinals.
"It was a little weird at the beginning, warming up in the other bullpen, that sort of thing," Lackey said. "I had a great time when I played here. No hard feelings on that situation. They went a different direction and I ended up in a great place."
Lackey, who signed a two-year deal with the Cubs over the winter, struck out 11 and scattered four hits over seven shutout innings. It was a plenty familiar sight for the Cardinals, who watched Lackey notch quality starts in each of his 17 home outings last season. The Cardinals' best chance to nick Lackey was thwarted by an unsuccessful squeeze attempt when the game was scoreless in the fifth.
"Guys were having trouble picking him up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Lackey. "He had a good fastball. You could tell he was amped up, and the ball was coming out of his hand very well today. He was locating it, and he got us to expand the zone and got a lot of chases."
Mike Leake, who essentially plugged Lackey's vacancy in the rotation, stayed toe-to-toe with him until blinking in the sixth. A leadoff homer by Dexter Fowler put the Cubs ahead. A three-run seventh compounded by three hits and an Aledmys Diaz error then gave Chicago a comfortable four-run lead. Leake remains winless in his first three starts with the Cardinals, though he did finish seven innings for the first time this season.
One game does not mean a shift in power in the NL Central.
"We've got a pretty good team here, and expectations are high, and we're embracing those and we're shooting high," Lackey said. "It's still early. Let's play some baseball and see what happens."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
You go, we go: Last year, Fowler hit one home run in the month of April, and the Cubs center fielder is well ahead of that pace, belting his third in 13 games leading off the sixth inning. Last season, he finished with 17 homers, a career high. Fowler, who ranks among the NL leaders in on-base percentage, also doubled in the first.
Stunted squeeze: The Cardinals missed a chance to strike first on a foiled squeeze attempt with Leake at the plate in the fifth. Leake missed on his bunt attempt as Kolten Wong raced down the third-base line. Wong was able to scurry back to third when Cubs catcher Miguel Montero held onto the ball too long in the rundown. But subsequent strikeouts of Leake and Matt Carpenter left Wong stranded there.
"It was a tough pitch to try and get down," Leake said. "I probably could have put some bat on it if I get a little lower with my legs. I guess I'll try to practice some tomorrow." More >
Fielding foibles: The Cardinals' defense continues to be an issue, with Diaz's costly seventh-inning error bringing the team's season total to 14. Thirteen of those have been committed by infielders, including four by Diaz in his first 29 chances. The rookie shortstop not only couldn't field Jorge Soler's hard-hit ground ball cleanly enough to try for a double play with two on and none out, but he airmailed a throw over the head of first baseman Brandon Moss once he recovered.
"I don't feel good making four errors, but I think you have to keep working at this level," Diaz said. "Every game is another opportunity to make good plays for the team."
Musical chairs: The Cardinals played games with the Cubs before the game actually started. Chicago players were greeted by classical music during batting practice, then silence. Assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske got a speaker, hooked up someone's smartphone, and boom, they had their own music. Said Cubs manager Joe Maddon: "We love the psychological entertainment warfare." Jason Heyward, who was booed every at-bat and every play, didn't even notice the lack of music. He did hear the fans boos. More >
"They don't boo too often," Heyward said. "It must be somebody important or somebody doing something worth booing. It's good to know I'm not going through it alone. My teammates are there, my manager is there, friends and family are there. It's all good."
Lackey wasn't impressed.
"I've seen booing," he said. "That ain't booing."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
In his first regular-season start against the Cardinals, Lackey notched a few milestones. He needed six innings to reach 2,500 in his career, which he surpassed, and also picked up his 20th career double-digit strikeout game. For the first time in his career, the right-hander has won the first three starts of the season. And, he's also the 16th player to beat all 30 Major League teams. More >
In the Chicago eighth, Montero was called out at first base after Moss' tag. The Cubs challenged whether Moss actually tagged Montero, and after a review, the original call stood.
Cubs:Jason Hammel, who has given up one earned run over 12 innings in his first two outings of the season, will start Tuesday in the second game of this three-game series. The right-hander was 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three starts last season against St. Louis. First pitch will be 7:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium.
Cardinals: Tuesday's start will be Jaime Garcia's first since his one-hit shutout over the Brewers last Thursday. Garcia, who took a no-hit bid into the sixth in that outing, hasn't faced the Cubs in a regular-season game since 2012.
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