Halos' Lackey had little margin for error
Ace's struggles against Red Sox continue in Game 1 of ALDS
BOSTON -- He made his name in the 2002 playoffs, a 23-year-old at ease under the postseason lights. Time and again, the Angels called on John Lackey, their 6-foot-6, 245-pound ace and a former Texas high school quarterback, to snarl on baseball's biggest stages.
How odd, then, that the venue that John Updike once called a "lyrical little bandbox" humbled Lackey again in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Lackey brought a 1-4 record and a 7.46 ERA in 35 career Fenway innings into Wednesday's game. Once again, he lost.
But in Lackey's estimation, Wednesday was different.
"I don't think the place has anything to do with it," said Lackey, after allowing all four runs early in a 4-0 loss. "You definitely get more homers. Some crazy stuff happens here because it's so small.
"Moreso today, you've just got to give credit to [Boston's Josh] Beckett, the way he was pitching. It wouldn't really much matter where we were playing tonight."
The Red Sox pounced early. With a hard pull swing, Kevin Youkilis hammered a 2-1 tailing fastball over the left-center-field wall with one out in the first. The score after one: 1-0.
"[I] just missed the location of the fastball a little bit -- ran over the plate on me." Lackey said. "Not a big deal -- first-inning stuff -- it happens."
Lackey's great mistake -- "The only pitch I'd take back," he said -- came in the third. Youkilis stood on second after lacing a double to left. With a base open and David Ortiz sauntering to the plate, Lackey knew to pitch carefully. He stretched and delivered.
"I threw a curveball for a ball," Lackey said. "And I was pretty much trying to do the same thing the next pitch. It was kind of an unintentional intentional walk, I guess."
"I made a mistake," he said.
Lackey left a curveball down and inside, in the slipstream of Ortiz's devastating left-handed swing. Ortiz ripped a two-run homer to right.
"I just did something I didn't want to do to Ortiz," Lackey said. "I wasn't even really trying to throw that pitch for a strike. And it ended up over the plate, and he was sitting on it."
For one of the Majors' finer power pitchers, Lackey's lapse was out of character.
"John's good with that kind of stuff," said his catcher, Mike Napoli. "He knows the situation. He knows baseball. So it kind of surprised me, but it's what happened. You can't go back and do anything about it."
After Manny Ramirez reached second on a single and a wild pitch, Mike Lowell came up with an RBI single on a 3-2 breaking ball, giving the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.
"It was just good hitting," Lackey said.
But the game, as usually is the case with Lackey, remained within reach. He gained command of his fastball. Instead of missing with first-pitch strikes, as he did in the early innings, he got ahead.
"You saw the game was easier for John," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, "and he put guys away."
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Predictably, Lackey faced questions after the game about his troubles at Fenway Park. He spoke about his struggles against the Red Sox, against whom his 6.27 ERA is his worst against any American League team.
"I think they get to a lot of people," Lackey said. "That's why we're playing them right now."
He spoke about his turnaround after the Lowell single, when he faced 11 batters and recorded 11 outs.
"I'm not getting into that," Lackey said with a sly smile. "We may have another round."
Finally, Lackey assessed his overall performance.
"Honestly," he said, "I really think I pitched better than the numbers are going to show. I'd really only take back the missed location in the first inning on the homer, and then [I] missed with Ortiz. Other than that, I'm not that disappointed with it."
Fact was, someone else was thriving under the postseason lights on Wednesday night.
"[My] margin of error wasn't real high," Lackey said.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.