Lackey toes fine line in big win
Halos right-hander sinks Dodgers with little room for error
LOS ANGELES -- At 6-foot-6 and roughly 245 pounds, John Lackey is a big guy to be walking tightropes -- especially in front of 48,155 gawkers.
One tough Texan, a modern-day John Wayne in spikes, Lackey handled the high-wire challenge deftly on Sunday at Dodger Stadium. He dispatched the Dodgers, 1-0, with a little help from sidekick Francisco Rodriguez, that daring young man on the flying trapeze.
Making his team's lone run on the three-game weekend series stand up, Lackey lasted 8 2/3 exhausting innings before handing it off to K-Rod for the dramatic final out, enabling the Angels to avoid a weekend Interleague sweep.
For Lackey, the hardest part was watching Rodriguez finish the high-wire routine he knows so well by retiring James Loney on a groundout to leave the bases loaded.
"I'm way more nervous watching than pitching," said Lackey, whose 120-pitch effort left his catcher duly impressed.
"That's the most [pitches] I've seen on our team," Mike Napoli said.
The receiver called 131 pitches and hit one that delivered the game's only run. Napoli's opposite-field single in the second inning against hard-luck losing pitcher Derek Lowe (5-8) cashed in Juan Rivera, who had singled with two outs and moved up on Gary Matthews Jr.'s walk.
This was the sum total of the Angels' offensive production across 27 dizzying innings at Dodger Stadium, but it was enough to send them home to Orange County beaming at the conclusion of a long, strange trip from Philadelphia to Washington to Chavez Ravine.
Interleague Play ended with the Angels going 10-8 against the National League and splitting six games with the Dodgers. The Halos rebounded from the disappointment of Saturday night's 1-0 loss when the Dodgers won without managing a hit against Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo.
Lackey was determined to halt the losing spin at three games, and that's why the last out stressed him out -- even though he has supreme faith in Rodriguez.
"The numbers are what they are," Lackey said, referring to K-Rod's 32 saves in 34 opportunities. He also could have been alluding to the Angels taking six of nine on the trip with an offense that went into hibernation for stretches.
"It's pitching and defense -- no magic formula," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Our pitchers are executing and getting in good zones. That's what we rely on."
The Angels have three starters -- Lackey, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana -- deserving of consideration for the July 15 All-Star Game along with Rodriguez.
Despite having his season delayed six weeks and missing eight trips to the post because of a triceps strain, Lackey is 6-1 with a 1.44 ERA in nine starts. He used a crackling curveball and quality fastball to strike out a season-high nine Dodgers, walking only two men.
"Successful guys are the ones who usually throw strikes," Loney said of Lackey, "and he was doing that. He had pinpoint control and had his [curveball] working pretty good. He did a great job."
Lowe, who struck out seven in seven innings, enjoyed the showdown, if not the outcome.
"I've always enjoyed being in those games," Lowe said. "I'd much rather have that than a 11-10 game."
No pitcher in the game since May 14 has been as good as Lackey. He has yielded three earned runs in one start, two in another, one earned run six times and now the big zero, a shutout shared with K-Rod.
"I was going into it thinking I had to get it done," Lackey said. "If you don't give up any runs, you can't lose."
Lackey, an All-Star last season for the first time, wouldn't mind getting an invite to Yankee Stadium for this year's Midsummer Classic. But he's more concerned with showing how an ace behaves, particularly after a pair of shutout losses.
"I think John wants to be the lead dog," Scioscia said. "He knows how important he is to our rotation. This guy is as good a competitor as all of us have seen in the game."
Lackey had a streak of 14 consecutive outs end in the sixth when Juan Pierre singled and stole second, his 35th theft of the season. After Pierre departed with an ailing left knee, Lackey retired Andre Ethier on a groundout.
Carrying a two-hit shutout into the ninth, Lackey wanted to finish off the job. But a one-out single by Delwyn Young and a two-out walk to Russell Martin -- Lackey's 120th pitch narrowly missed being his 80th strike -- convinced Scioscia to play the K-Rod card.
"John had a lot left in him," Scioscia said. "As well as he was executing his pitches and holding his stuff, it was worth it to leave him in the game and see how far he could get us in the ninth.
"I felt he had enough to go after Martin, but after he walked Russell, I decided to give Frankie a little leeway with a base open."
K-Rod used it, walking Jeff Kent before his two-strike changeup to Loney was tapped to second baseman Howie Kendrick, who handled it cleanly to end it. Kendrick had entered with Rodriguez in a double-switch after Maicer Izturis got the start at second base with Chone Figgins back in the lineup at third.
"The whole game," Kendrick said, "I was trying to keep sharp mentally, paying attention. Here, it's a little tougher to see the ball during the day. Bases loaded, two outs, playoff-type atmosphere ... I was telling myself I've done it plenty of times, just make the play. I'll take it for future reference."
Lackey will take a win any way he can get it -- even if it means walking a tightrope.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.