Lilly to make most of All-Star experience
Cubs lefty takes competitor's mind into second appearance
ST. LOUIS -- He has a bulldog mentality, and if you've seen the video clip of Ted Lilly crashing into St. Louis' Yadier Molina at home plate last September, you know it's an appropriate nickname for the Cubs pitcher.
"No situation is too big for him," catcher Koyie Hill said of the Cubs' only All-Star representative. "He's out there competing, but he competes with himself, so it's nothing where he's going to get taken out of his element. He has great mound presence, great composure. If the younger guys want somebody to look to, he's the guy."
Lilly's All-Star selection is well deserved. A 17-game winner in 2008, he is 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 18 starts this season. If the left-hander only pitched at home, he might win 30 games. At Wrigley Field this season, he's 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA.
"Being the All-Star representative from this team says it all," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's been our best pitcher."
He's been stingy, too. In Lilly's last 54 2/3 innings, he's walked seven and struck out 49. But Lilly doesn't care about the numbers.
"The whole objective is to try to do what I can to help us get into first place," Lilly said. "I think when I look at my first half, it's nice and it's one of the better first halves I've had, at least statistically. But you still know there's a lot of pitching to do, and a lot of really important pitching coming up in the second half of the season, more so than the first half. It's nice to get off to a good start but more important to finish strong."
This is his second All-Star appearance and first since 2004, when he was part of the American League team as the Toronto Blue Jays' representative. As one of two lefties on the NL All-Star pitching staff, Lilly knows whatever opportunity comes his way will be out of the bullpen. Despite his unfamiliarity with the role, expect him to have the same bulldog approach to it, whenever it may come.
"I would approach it like it's the last game I'm ever going to get the chance to pitch in," Lilly said. "This is a fun game and we all want to do well -- not in the sense that there's pressure. It's fun and you want to make the most of the opportunity.
"I would love to have an opportunity to get an inning of work. I imagine I'll have enough rest before the second half begins."
"Let's hope he gets another nine [wins] in the second half," Piniella said.
What's been impressive is Lilly's consistency. He leads the Cubs with 14 quality starts, and in his last start Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals, he notched his 100th career win.
"He was definitely in control the whole time," Hill said after the game, in which Lilly gave up one run on four hits and one walk over eight innings. "He had a great game plan and executed his game plan. It's always nice to go out with a guy who's in control of the situation, and that's Teddy to a 'T.' Nothing is too big for him. He concentrates as well as anybody and executes his game plan as well as anybody, and he did that today."
Of Lilly's 100 wins, 41 have come with the Cubs, 11th most by any left-hander in franchise history. Steve Trout is next on the list with 43.
"He's got a lot of weapons," St. Louis' Ryan Ludwick said of Lilly. "He's got a cutter, a four-seamer which he can run up to 93 [mph] when he wants to. He's got the big hook and the changeup, so he's just one of those guys who's an extremely smart, intelligent pitcher, and with the weapons I just mentioned, he's the type of guy who can keep hitters off balance, because there's so much diversity between the different pitches.
"If you saw him four times in a game, he could attack you four different ways if he wanted to."
Before every start, Lilly does a lap along the outfield fence, an even-paced, warmup run to get his blood flowing. When he does it at Wrigley, the bleacher fans cheer as he trots past, the applause following him like a wave.
"There are times when you get the crowd going and feeling pretty good out there, and Teddy always seems to be in his own element," Hill said. "He's got that -- call it a sense of nirvana or whatever. He's always in control, and it enables him to execute his game plan."
Lilly still has work to do this season. The Cubs may be looking up at the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, but the lefty is ready to get back to work.
"The clubs that are in front of us are playing good baseball," Lilly said. "We have the talent and ability to win this division. By no means do I expect those clubs to stand aside. We're going to have to play some solid baseball, and I think this will be a fun run here in the second half.
"Fortunately, the clubs in front of us aren't running away with it. We'll have an opportunity to catch them in the second half, and we're getting some of our key players back on the field. We'll have the chance to run them down."
Carrie Muskat and Jonathan Mayo are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.