Only thing missing was his finishing touch

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 9, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - John Lackey pounded the ball into his glove when he spotted Angels manager Mike Scioscia coming out of the dugout in the eighth inning last night.

The righthander was working on a four-hit shutout against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series and wanted to stay in the game. But with Lackey at 114 pitches, Scioscia decided that was enough.

“I understood,’’ Lackey said. “But when you’re out on the mound, you never want to come out. Especially of a game like that.’’

The crowd of 45,070 at Angel Stadium gave Lackey a standing ovation as he left the field and the 6-foot-6-inch Texan tipped his cap to return their salute. Lackey had been 0-3 in his previous six postseason starts, his last victory coming in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Three of those starts and two of the losses had come against Boston.

“It’s nice, for sure,’’ said Lackey after the Angels’ 5-0 victory. “But we’re definitely not towards any goals. We won one game, we’ve got to get three before anything really matters here.’’

In one of the best performances of his career, Lackey gave up four singles, walked one, and struck out four.

“That’s a long way to pitch against that lineup, to get us 22 outs like that,’’ Scioscia said. “That’s a tremendous effort.’’

Lackey retired the first eight batters he faced, five on ground balls. The Red Sox didn’t get their first base runner until Alex Gonzalez singled.

Lackey came back and got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground to shortstop. Inning over. Only it wasn’t, as home plate umpire Joe West signaled the Angels to stay on the field, ruling that catcher Jeff Mathis had nicked Ellsbury’s bat with his mitt. The catcher’s interference kept the inning alive.

The unexpected threat was squashed quickly as Lackey needed two pitches to get Dustin Pedroia to fly to right field.

Boston’s only other encroachment against Lackey came with two outs in the sixth inning when Pedroia singled to right field before Victor Martinez walked on four pitches.

Lackey then missed on his first three pitches to Kevin Youkilis. Needing strikes, he went exclusively to four-seam fastballs. Youkilis took the first two for called strikes, fouled off the next one, then grounded the seventh pitch of the at-bat to third base. Chone Figgins picked up the ball and beat Pedroia to the bag to end the inning.

Lackey worked a perfect seventh inning, striking out David Ortiz and Jason Bay to start before getting Mike Lowell to foul out to Mathis. J.D. Drew singled to start the eighth inning and advanced on a wild pitch. Lackey stayed in long enough to get pinch hitter Casey Kotchman, a former teammate, to ground to third. Darren Oliver finished the Red Sox from there.

Lackey had thrown only two innings in the 11 days prior to Game 1 as Scioscia carefully planned out extra rest. After going five innings against Oakland Sept. 26, Lackey was limited to two innings and 40 pitches in his final start of the regular season against Texas Oct. 1. Then came a six-day break before last night’s Game 1.

“It was huge because it gave me a little more on my fastball,’’ Lackey said. “It definitely helped.’’

It was satisfying for Scioscia, who was criticized by some in Southern California for not driving his team harder to try to catch the Yankees for the best record in the American League and home-field advantage. The Angels were 12-10 in their final 22 games, but Scioscia accomplished what he wanted.

“I think the little break from the end of the season refreshed [Lackey] a little bit,’’ Scioscia said. “He had great stuff.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at

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