The Yankees will face John Lackey tonight for the second time this postseason. Few ALCS pitchers have as much experience as Lackey, who came up in the Angels’ 2002 championship season. This is his fifth postseason, and he has amassed 71.1 innings over 11 starts and two relief appearances. Yet only two of those starts have come in elimination games for the Angels.
The first was the most important. Down 5-0 with just nine outs until elimination in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, the Angels rallied for three runs in the seventh and three in the eighth to force a Game 7 against the Giants. Taking the ball was Lackey, a rookie that year who had impressed in 108.1 regular season innings. He shined in that outing, pitching five innings of one-run ball, while the Angels pounded Giants starter Livan Hernandez.
Final line: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K — 86 pitches, 56 strikes
Understandably, that set up Lackey’s reputation as a clutch performer. That tends to happen when a rookie wins Game 7 of the World Series.
He didn’t pitch in another elimination playoff game until 2008, when the Angels found themselves down two games to one against Boston in the ALDS. Again, Lackey pitched well. He allowed just two runs over seven innings, and immediately after he left the game the Angels tied it at two in the top of the eighth. Mike Scioscia, not using his closer on the road in a tie game, even an elimination game, left in Scot Shields to face the Red Sox in the ninth, and didn’t even replace him after Jason Bay hit a ground rule double. Jed Lowrie singled him in with two outs, and that was the Angels’ season.
Final line: 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K — 96 pitches, 56 strikes
It appears that the Angels have the guy they want on the mound tonight. While the Angels are 1-1 in elimination games Lackey has pitched, the loss was not his fault. He pitched as well as can be reasonably expected in the playoffs. If the Yankees get that line out of Burnett tonight, they’ll be happy I’m sure.
While we’re here, why not take a look at Lackey vs. the Yankees in the playoffs?
Lackey was part of the saddest game of that sad series. The Yankees jumped all over Ramon Ortiz, scoring six runs off him in the fist three innings, knocking him out with two out in the third. Lackey came on to pitch three solid innings, holding the Yanks to three hits and no runs. The Angels got a few back off Mussina in the meantime, setting up a Mike Stanton disappointment. Torre left him in two batters too long, tough his eventual replacement, Steve Karsay, gave up the home run that iced the victory.
Yesterday I second guessed the decision to start Scott Kazmir in Game 4 over John Lackey. Subconsciously, I think I was thinking back to the 2005 ALDS, when Lackey started on three days’ rest to foil the Yankees. It didn’t work out in the end, but it was still a valiant effort.
The Yankees jumped out to a 2-0 lead by the fifth, and were still looking good when Juan Rivera homered to make it 2-1 in the bottom of the inning. A couple of errors, one in the sixth by A-Rod and one in the seventh by Tino, allowed the Angels to open up the game, and they evened the series at one. Lackey did his job, pitching 5.2 innings of two-run ball, though the Yankees didn’t quite capitalize on their 10 base runners against him. Scot Shields replaced him with runners on first and second with two out and ended the threat.
With the Angels up two games to one, thanks to a complete pitching implosion in Game 3, Lackey came back on three day’s rest to pitch Game 4 in New York. Again, he went 5.2 innings, this time allowing one run on two hits and four walks. He gave up an RBI single to Gary Sheffield immediately before Scioscia lifted him, but was still in line for a win after the inning. The Yanks made an improbable comeback off of Scot Shields to force a Game 5. That one I do not wish to relive.
Continuing his trend of 5.2 inning appearances against the Yankees, that’s how long Lackey went in Game 1, allowing four runs, though only two earned. The first unearned was the ball that landed between Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar. It wasn’t unearned because of the misplay, though, but because of a Juan Rivera throwing error that allowed Damon to take second on a single. The other unearned run came off an errant Kendry Morales throw that allowed Melky to take second and eventually score on a Jeter single, which was compounded when the ball got away from Torii Hunter. Lackey’s line was not at all impressive in that game: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.
John Lackey is known as a big gamer, and he has mostly lived up to that reputation. It started in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, and even though he’s pitched just one elimination game since then, he’s come up for the Angels in the playoffs. They’ll need him at his best tonight. The Yankees are poised to strike.