John Lackey’s Gonna Act as a Palate Cleanser Tuesday Night

Not even being placed on a delicious gourmet bun made Monday’s poop sandwich any easier to choke down. Try as I might to wish it away, the unpleasant taste of that fetid frankfurter — wait, is a hot dog a sandwich? — still lingers like the ghost of Clinchmas past. The elation of seeing Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant drive huge home runs into the seats in left was torn asunder by the marching cleats of Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence, all of whom seemed to be batting in every inning from the 8th on.

Perhaps the inability to hold a late lead was karmic retribution for the Cubs finally getting over on Madison Bumgarner, who they roughed up for 3 earned runs (all on the Arrieta homer) on 7 hits over 5 innings. The problem is that they only notched another 3 hits in 8 innings against a bullpen that was thought to be the Giants’ glaring weakness heading into the series.

Those highs, man, they were really high. But the rest of the game felt like switching lanes on an interstate-cum-parking lot in order to hasten your progress, only to find your passage further stalled as the lane you just left lurches forward. You question your decisions as nothing you do seems to work out. No move is the right move.

Arrieta hit for himself with Javy Baez on second and only one out in the 6th and then came out to pitch the bottom of that inning after having allowed some solid contact in the 5th. Another incredible play from Baez prevented a leadoff hit, though, and it looked as though things were gonna move right along.

Pedro Strop and Travis Wood make quick work of the Giants in the 7th: stomp the gas. Wood allows a single to Belt to open the 8th: brakelights ahead. Hector Rondon comes on and walks Buster Posey: pump the brakes. Aroldis Chapman enters and strikes out Hunter Pence: punch it. Conor Gillaspie triples: mash breaks. Brandon Crawford singles: swerve onto shoulder to avoid rear-ending car in front of you.

The next hitter walks and it’s time to Panik because things are looking Grimm and why does Willson Contreras keep trying to pick guys off and now they’re on second and third with one out and thank God they got out of the inning but now they’re down two runs in the 9th and ohmyGodIamdeadandtiredandIwantthistoendnowthankyouverymuch.

Kris Bryant’s home run that almost wasn’t got the traffic flowing again momentarily, though it came to a halt once more and finally stopped for good when the Giants got to Mike Montgomery after what had been a pretty flippin’ admirable 4 innings of work. We all retired mercifully to bed at that point, the freshest memory that of Joe Panik’s walk-off double to deep right. You were probably still chewing on it when you woke up after too little sleep and even less satisfaction.

But weren’t you kind of expecting to eat something pretty awful in Game 3 anyway? I mean, even though I was at least as confident as anyone that the Cubs could get to Bumgarner and it felt like a win when Arrieta took him deep, that was early. We all said from the start that this was a really tough matchup, and taking a loss is par for the course. Doesn’t make Tuesday morning’s result easier to swallow, just reminds you that you saw it coming from a ways off.

You knew there’d be construction on the road, no reason to freak out when there’s more traffic than usual. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to make it home, only that it’s going to take you a little longer to get there. Or perhaps you prefer my opening analogy, in which case you need only find yourself a toothbrush and some mouthwash. And if there’s anyone who knows about both road rage and the importance of good oral hygiene, it’s the man who takes the mound for the Cubs in Game 3.

John Lackey, the only active major league pitcher to eliminate the Giants in a playoff series (with the Angels in Game 7 of the ’02 World Series), looks to repeat history when he and the Cubs face Matt Moore Tuesday night. It’s an odd juxtaposition to call such an acquired taste as Lackey a palate cleanser, but he’ll be exactly that if he can go out and do what he has done so often when it comes to big games.

Lackey’s the guy who blasts down the left lane that’s about to close and zips over at the last second, causing everyone else to slow down. He’s crusty and abrasive and looks like he’d just as soon punch you in the face as talk to you. He’s also a very good pitcher who has been in bigger games than the one he’s about to start.

Moore, on the other hand, is a guy who’s shown a propensity for giving up runs by the bunches every now and again. He’s coming off of two really excellent starts, which some might see as a sign of momentum. I look at his game logs and see reason to believe he’s due for a shelling. Speaking of being due, Anthony Rizzo can’t continue to be lost up there at the plate. Cubs hitters who don’t also pitch are primed for a turnaround too.

Losing sucks under any circumstance, let alone when you’re talking about a game in which your team had humanized a folk hero before turning things over to a supposedly lock-down pen. But the Cubs are up 2-1 and are a better team than the Giants and are by no means painted into a corner. Now it’s time for John Lackey to put in work and get this traffic moving in the right direction.

I’m hoping he hands out a few breath mints too, because a few of you could really use one. Especially you. Oh man, you too.

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