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09/20/09 12:44 AM ET

Lackey Halos' acknowledged leader

When veteran speaks, teammates listen with willing ears

ARLINGTON -- The pulse of the Angels' pitching staff? From one insider's viewpoint, it's found in the right arm, the heart and the voice of big John Lackey.

"He's Papa Bear," middle reliever Matt Palmer said of the Angels' ace, who is on his best run of the season as he prepares to face the Rangers on Sunday. "Nobody calls him that, but that's who he is.

Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65
2008 record: 100-62
AL West champs

Figgins: Staying true
Angels: Road warriors
Figgins/Abreu: Spark plugs
Bullpen: Stepping up
Figgins: The ignitor
Scioscia: Fundamental key
Vlad: Focused on present
Hatcher: Enjoying success
Scioscia: Approach the key
Aybar: More than just glove
Morales: Putting it together
Abreu: Lauded by 'mates
Wilson: Not alone
Vlad: Resume builder
Weaver: Family matters
Abreu: Hall of Famer?
Saunders: Overcame injury
Lackey: Playoff veteran
Kazmir: Ties to Morales
Jepsen: Remembering Nick
Weaver: Path to pros
Hunter: Humbled by honor
Lackey: It all began in '02
Weaver: Growing as player
Reagins: Built from within
Morales: Back in the groove
Abreu: Influence extends
Scioscia: Catcher at heart
Lackey: Halos' leader
Morales: Gomez's legacy
Abreu: Embracing his role
Jepsen: Honoring Adenhart
Lackey: Takes place as ace
Weaver: Glue of staff
Scioscia: Postseason fixture
Morales: Perseverance

"John takes care of all the pitchers. He does it with his actions. You see what he does on the mound, the enthusiasm he has in the dugout, his work ethic. He can be calm, and he can be intense. You always know he's there."

Lackey's intensity can drive him to extraordinary heights, and it can be seen in his mannerisms and his words, especially after a loss that doesn't taste good.

Lackey was critical of the Angels' defense -- including his own, given that his throwing error contributed to his demise -- following a 4-1 loss in Boston in his most recent start.

"We've got to play better baseball," Lackey said. "I've got to make that play, and we've got to execute."

He also mentioned that the offense needed to take care of business, as it had so proficiently from June through August before running into a September cold spell.

Lackey's open, unsparing critique of his team didn't seem to bother his manager at all.

"John has always spoken his mind," Mike Scioscia said. "When guys make great plays, he says it. Our guys understand. John makes a bad pitch, he'll be the first to say it.

"I don't think there ever will be a time he doesn't speak his mind. He understands how hard the guys play."

Palmer said he didn't read Lackey's comments, but he welcomes any strong words the big man has to offer.

"You see Lackey and Torii [Hunter], those are the two guys who have the ability and authority to stick out and speak out," Palmer said. "As a team, there's a time to be aggressive and a time not to be aggressive. Those are the guys who speak out and enforce for us.

"They aren't the only guys who have things to say, but the media goes to them -- and they should. They've earned it. Torii Hunter is in the media all the time, and he should be. That's just who he is.

"Believe me, when John has something to say, everybody wants to hear it. But he usually leads with his actions, the way he carries himself."

The Angels don't have a lot of outgoing players who are known for colorful quotes and expansive repartee. But Hunter is about as good as it gets, and Lackey, as Scioscia noted, never has been shy about expressing an opinion.

"You need that on a team," Palmer said. "When Torii and John spoke out, we were losing, and we weren't playing well. They weren't happy about it. That's the way I took it.

"That's the attitude I take to the ballpark, and I think that's how we are as a team. We're not going to take any [abuse], and we're going to defend our territory. We are relaxed as a team, but when it's time to go to work, we go to work.

"And on the pitching staff, John is Papa Bear."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.