Lackey knows what it means to be here

first_imgANAHEIM – There’s an Elvis curl to the lip, a breadth to the shoulders, an affably cocky air about big John Lackey that says this is the Angels pitcher who gets the ball with the whole season on the line. As he put it the other day, speaking of playoff distractions, “I’ve done the flyovers and all that kind of stuff.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 In Game 1 of the best-of-five series, Bartolo Colon had let the night get away in the first inning on three singles and Robinson Cano’s three-run double over Garret Anderson’s extended glove. This, what Lackey gave the Angels from the outset of Game 2, was more like it. The Yankees kept putting runners on base. Lackey kept holding them there. He’d give up a walk, five times in his 5 innings. He wouldn’t give up a rally. He let in a single run in the second, another in the fifth. He wouldn’t let the Angels down. This was the Lackey of the postseason 2-0 record and 2.57 ERA. The man who’s heard the jets in October. “It’s always fun, man,” he said with a grin in the clubhouse, after the Angels had tied the series 1-1. “This is what you play 162 for.” Here’s Lackey’s idea of fun: Second inning. With one out, back-to-back doubles, Hideki Matsui to right-center and Cano to the corner in left, made it 1-0. Lackeygloved a Tino Martinez grounder to stop the rally. Third inning. With one out, careful pitching to Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi brought back-to-back walks and Gary Sheffield to the plate. Lackey gets a grounder from Sheffield, then one from Matsui, to end the threat. Fifth inning. Jason Giambi doubled Rodriguez to third with one out, jogging into second base because both Adam Kennedy and Orlando Cabrera went out for the throw and left the bag unmanned, and Sheffield’s high chopper toward third made it 2-0. Lackey got Matsui on a grounder that Chone Figgins dove to backhand to keep the game close. It was Lackey showing the cool that Mike Scioscia pictured when the manager said: “John has pitched, in his short career, in more big games than most guys in their entire lives.” Lackey was 23, with less than 100 days in the major-league life, when he dueled Minnesota’s Brad Radke in the win that put the Angels a game away from the 2002 pennant. The Anaheim elders had to compare him to something, so each reached for the most poised young pitchers he’d ever seen. Pitching coach Bud Black thought of Bret Saberhagen. Scioscia thought of Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and Bob Welch. “These guys had the same ice water in their veins that Lackey does,” Scioscia said back then. It would come down to Game 7 in that World Series, Lackey against Livan Hernandez. Lackey held Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and the Giants to four singles in five innings and turned over a 4-1 lead that the bullpen kept. The young Angels of ’02 grew up, not without struggles. Lackey’s included a 10-16 season in ’03 and the frustration of watching the club’s opening-round sweep by Boston in ’04. The way last season ended, the Angels clinching the division in the 161st game, Lackey couldn’t have made a playoff start until Game 4. There was no Game 4. “(Reliever) Brendan Donnelly, in spring training this year, told me my goal was to at least get to play this year in the playoffs once we got there,” Lackey said. He’s smarter at age 26, less inclined to fire fastballs at the letters, more willing to take something off. Lackey threw his first breaking ball of the game on 3-2 to leadoff man Derek Jeter, who bounced out. “That shows you something about John,” Scioscia said. “He’s fearless out there.” It was 2-1 Yankees when Lackey was lifted, Scot Shields getting the final out of the sixth. Then Small Ball (infield hits, bunts, Yankees errors) and Round Ball (a Bengie Molina home run) won this must-win game. Angels starters are used to working with no margin for error. But doing it in the summer is one thing, and doing it in the fall is something else. But, as Lackey said, almost believably: “If you’ve been through it before, it’s not as big of a deal.” Kevin Modesti’s column appears in the Daily News three days a week. He can be reached at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!center_img Lackey worked the past six months to get to Wednesday night, to have the chance to replicate his World Series heroism of 2002, to be able to pitch the game he was denied in 2004. With the Angels desperate to stay out of a two-game hole in their opening-round series, Lackey held down the New York Yankees long enough for his teammates to scrape together a 5-3 victory at Angel Stadium that brought back some of that ’02 feeling. last_img

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