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09/27/09 1:00 AM ET

As a rookie, ace in the making

Kennedy sees roots of Lackey's stardom stemming from '02

ANAHEIM -- In the judgment of former teammate Adam Kennedy, who enjoyed arguably the greatest individual performance in franchise history, it didn't take long for John Lackey to establish himself as the lead dog of the Angels' rotation.

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

It happened virtually in a heartbeat, with the whole world watching seven years ago.

"I just remember having a feeling going into the World Series with him on the mound that was different," Kennedy, the intensely driven second baseman of the Angels' 2002 championship outfit now with Oakland, was saying in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium.

"Our pitching staff wasn't that great at the time. [Jarrod] Washburn hadn't pitched that great in the postseason. John was the guy. He had that power fastball that went through the zone, and a natural cutter."

Lackey, Kennedy recalled, clearly loved the pressure of October.

"Looking back, he was the exact same guy then as he is today," Kennedy said. "You can't teach that. Either you have it or you don't. John has it."

Lackey made 18 regular-season starts for the Angels in '02, his rookie year. He didn't get a starting call in the American League Division Series against the Yankees but impressed in three shutout innings of relief, holding the Bronx Bombers to three hits and one walk while striking out three.

Washburn made two starts in that series, Kevin Appier and Ramon Ortiz one apiece.

It wasn't until the AL Championship Series against Minnesota that Lackey was handed the ball for a start -- and he delivered in a big way.

Going seven innings in Game 4 at Angel Stadium against a Twins club featuring a gifted center fielder named Torii Hunter and a young DH named David Ortiz, Lackey shut out the Twins on three hits. He struck out seven and walked none.

Under the circumstances, it can be viewed as the game of his life. He's remembered as the starter and winner of Game 7 of the World Series against the Giants, leading the staff with 12 1/3 innings in the Fall Classic, but Game 4 of the ALCS was Lackey's masterwork.

"Lackey was dealing, man," Hunter said. "He was throwing 96, on the black. We couldn't do a thing with him."

The following day, Oct. 13, Kennedy had his masterpiece: three home runs -- two against Joe Mays, one against Johan Santana -- in a 10-3 Angels triumph that vaulted the franchise into its first World Series.

As he observes old buddy Lackey, Kennedy -- a multiple-sport athlete at Riverside (Calif.) North High School -- understands where his take-charge manner took its roots.

"He's an old high school quarterback," Kennedy said of the Abilene, Tex., native. "He kind of has that quarterback mentality out there. He's in control. He's shown that mentality throughout his career."

Released by the Cardinals this season and signed on May 9 by the Athletics, Kennedy has excelled with the bat while handling second and third base with customary confidence and athleticism.

Coming to the end of a three-year contract, Kennedy will be a free agent after the season. It would delight Angels fans to see him return, and it's not out of the question that he'd be a fit given that Chone Figgins, also entering the open market, figures to attract some high-end shoppers.

Also headed for free agency is Lackey.

Not that the big Texan ever needed any added motivation. He established himself very quickly, as a raw rookie, as a guy with the right stuff to make teammates feel comfortable and confident with the stakes piled highest.

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