A flat tire during his Monday morning bike ride near the Gateway Arch wasn't about to dampen manager Joe Maddon's spirits before the Cubs' much-hyped National League Central series against the Cardinals.
Maddon preferred to revel in the opportunity to lead the Cubs against the team he adored as a youngster at the "Mecca of baseball at that time for me."
"Seriously, what's better than that?" Maddon asked.
For Maddon and the Cubs, the pitching and timely hitting of John Lackey was tough to top.
With most of the emotion involving the return of right fielder Jason Heyward after one season with the Cardinals, Lackey, 37, dominated in his return Monday night, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out 11 in the Cubs' 5-0 victory before a dejected crowd of 45,432 at Busch Stadium.
"He was on top of his game," Maddon said. "He threw quality pitches all night."
Many Cardinals fans were relegated to booing Heyward, 26, who turned down more money to join the Cubs.
But it was Lackey, who spent the previous 11/2 seasons with the Cardinals, who stifled their offense with a sharp slider and a fastball that tailed back over the inside part of the plate to left-handed hitters.
"You've got to change things up because they know me very well, and I know them very well," Lackey said.
Lackey has won his first three starts for the first time in his career. He was unaware he became the only active pitcher and the 16th in major-league history to earn at least one victory over every current team.
Lackey, however, was familiar with his success at Busch, where he improved to 12-4.
"It's by far the best place to pitch in this division, as far as size and not giving up home runs," Lackey said.
Cubs starting pitchers have pitched at least six innings in each of the first 13 games — a feat they hadn't accomplished since 1910, when their starters pitched at least six innings in their first 14 games.
"The bullpen is fresh because of that," Maddon said. "No one has been overworked."
Visibly upset after issuing a leadoff walk to Matt Carpenter in the bottom of the first, Lackey retired 10 consecutive batters and 13 of the next 14 before encountering his only jam.
With runners at second and third with one out in the fifth, Lackey struck out opposing pitcher Mike Leake and Carpenter to end the threat.
Lackey finally was rewarded for his work in the sixth when Dexter Fowler led off with his third home run. Fowler was 2-for-5 after entering the game with one hit in his last 10 at-bats.
Meanwhile, Lackey continued to upgrade the offensive output of a Cubs pitching staff that batted .114 last season — only the Braves pitchers were worse (.097).
He singled up the middle to score pinch runner Matt Szczur and cap a three-run seventh. Cubs pitchers are batting .207 (6-for-29).
Including the 2015 playoffs, the Cubs have won nine of their last 13 against the Cardinals. Maddon believes they have caught their rivals in terms of experience, but Lackey wasn't about to say the tide has turned in the NL Central.
"We think we've got a good team here," he said. "Expectations are high and we're embracing those and shooting high, so we're OK with that. But it's still early on."