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Lackey hung tough after tough start

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / October 4, 2007

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Although he struggled to get through the first three innings of last night's 4-0 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of this best-of-five American League Division Series, John Lackey knew he wasn't done. Far from it. The Angels' big righthander was defiant.

He knew it was going to take more than a rough start in which he gave up four runs on eight hits, including a solo home run by Kevin Youkilis in the first and a two-run shot by David Ortiz in the third, to knock him out of the game.

The tough-minded Texan kept firing, allowing no runs and just one hit in his next three innings before handing the game over to Ervin Santana.

"Honestly, I really think I pitched better than the numbers are going to show," said Lackey, who wound up throwing 99 pitches, 60 for strikes, but wished he could've taken back two of them.

You're allowed only two guesses as to which those were.

There was the fastball in the first inning to Youkilis that missed its mark, ran over the plate, and wound up getting deposited into the Monster Seats to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Then there was a curveball that hung over the plate in the third that Ortiz crushed, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 advantage.

"Other than that, I'm not that disappointed with it," said Lackey, who suffered his third defeat in as many outings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 2007. Even though his margin for error was minimized to microscopic proportions by Josh Beckett's complete-game gem, Lackey said, "For the most part, I felt OK. I did something I didn't want to do to Ortiz. I didn't want to throw that pitch for a strike and it ended up over the plate and he was sitting on it."

Of Lackey's rough start, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "Early in the game, getting early-count strikes was tough. He was trying to get back in the counts and [Boston is] too good of an offense for you to be behind as he was. As the game went on, he started to get ahead. You saw the game was easier for John, and he put guys away."

After recording a 1-2-3 fourth, Lackey got out of the fifth by ringing up Youkilis and Manny Ramírez, both of whom vehemently contested their called third strikes.

Asked about Beckett's performance, Lackey said, "I really didn't try to watch what he was doing; I was just trying to handle my own business. I managed to find a few things throughout the game that started to work a little bit better for me, but it was too late because he was pitching so well."

Lackey declined to divulge exactly what worked for him in his last three innings. "We have another round," he said.

And he meant it, too.

"We've been a team that's battled all season long; we'll be just fine," Lackey said when asked about how the Angels would respond in Game 2 against Daisuke Matsuzaka. "We'll be back here working on some things tomorrow and we're not going anywhere. We'll battle back and we're going to make a series of this."

Although he hasn't won at Fenway since July 30, 2006, when he defeated Curt Schilling, 10-4, Lackey never bemoaned his hard luck in Fenway's not-so-friendly confines.

"I think they get to a lot of people by the way they're playing right now," Lackey said of the Sox. "With Beckett pitching that way, it's going to be tough when you got to hold down that kind of lineup without getting much from your side."

Even after he struggled early, Lackey was confident he'd come out for the fourth. He is, after all, the ace of the Angels' staff, a 19-game winner. So it was going to take more than that to derail him. At no time did he wonder, "Can't I catch a break against these guys?"

"I've had too much success to ever think like that," Lackey said. "I've won a Game 7 [as a 24-year-old rookie in the 2002 World Series] and I've been given the ball for a reason. I'm not going to think like that. I'm going to be back and this team will be back. It's a race to three [wins], and we're not done after one game."

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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