ST. LOUIS -- John Lackey has been quite the bargain for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Pitching for the major league minimum $507,500 salary due to a clause in contract, Lackey went 13-10 for a team that lost its ace early. And when old rivals face each other in a postseason series for the first time Friday, he'll be pitching against an old buddy.
The 36-year-old Lackey will oppose the Chicago Cubs' Jon Lester, a duo that formed a devastating one-two for the Red Sox in the 2013 World Series.
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"I'd like to say I was surprised, but I'm not," Lackey said Thursday. "He's good. No accident people running into each other this time of year."
Lackey had a career-best 2.77 ERA and consistently went deep for the 100-win Cardinals, stepping up as the de facto ace after Adam Wainwright tore his left Achilles in late April.
He has earned this slot, the crusty, bulldog demeanor reminding management of former star pitcher Chris Carpenter.
Lackey was paid $82.5 million the previous five years under a contract he signed with Boston, which included a conditional club option for 2015 at the minimum. That condition was met when he missed 2012 while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery.
St. Louis acquired him from the Red Sox on July 31, 2014. Lackey can become a free agent again this fall.
"I don't think we'll discuss what we're doing in the offseason or strategy in the offseason at this point," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "We're excited he's a part of it and we're looking forward to a successful October."
Lester and Lackey combined for three victories in a six-game 2013 Series triumph over the Cardinals. Lester was 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA and Lackey won the clincher.
"He was probably the best on the planet going through the playoffs that year," Lackey said. "He knows how to compete and he knows how to handle this time of year, for sure."
Lester will try to follow an excellent wild-card performance by Jake Arrieta, who threw a four-hitter Wednesday night in a 4-0 victory over the Pirates.
Lester figured he'd be matched against 17-game winner Michael Wacha, but the right-hander was 2-3 with a 7.78 ERA the final month and will start Game 3. When Lester learned he would be opposed by Lackey, he thought it funny -- and fitting.
"He's going to almost out-will you sometimes, if that makes sense," Lester said. "Our friendship will go beyond this game, will go beyond this career, but come tomorrow, we're not buddies anymore."
Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95) will oppose Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43) in Game 2 Saturday. Arrieta (22-6, 1.77), having a breakout Cy Young-caliber season, faces Wacha (17-7, 3.38) in Game 3 and in Game 4 it will be St. Louis' Lance Lynn (12-11, 3.03) against probably Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74).
Thousands of fans regularly make the trek north or south and do their utmost to make the visitors feel right at home.
"I didn't even realize this was the first time we had met in the postseason," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who spoke reverently about the Cardinals tradition during earlier trips to Busch Stadium. "I thought that was kind of interesting, but then again it's believable if you look at how this thing plays out."
"It's going to be bumping tomorrow, regardless of who's winning," Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said. "And when we go to Wrigley, we know that stadium is going to be bumping for sure."
The pre-game workout was newsworthy for the Cardinals, who saw enough from All-Star catcher Yadier Molina that they believe he can be effective behind the plate wearing a hard plastic molded splint to protect a strained left thumb ligament. The thumb will be wrapped for at-bats.
Molina was injured tagging out the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo sliding into the plate on Sept. 20 in Chicago.
Maddon said he'd wait until game day to announce any roster changes but promised no major wrinkles.
"It's not going to be dramatically different, promise you," Maddon said.