Sunday, October 27
Updated: October 29, 8:43 AM ET
Calm, cool Lackey looks anything but a rookie
By David Kull
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- John Lackey, meet The Babe.
No, not that Babe, the one who routinely swatted majestic home runs in Yankee pinstripes and rendered dead the dead-ball era of baseball.
Lackey became only the second rookie in World Series history to start and win Game 7. The other? Pittsburgh's Babe Adams in 1909.
Six other rookie pitchers over the past 93 years -- including one Game 8 starter -- had tried and failed to double the size of Adams' exclusive club. But then along came Lackey, a tall Texan with a cowboy's drawl, a Gomer Pyle smile and a bull rider's heart.
Pitching on only three days' rest, Lackey corralled the Giants' bats over five innings. Allowing four hits and one run over five innings, he officially produced the best start in a World Series nearly bereft of starting pitching excellence.
Lackey's effort may seem modest in comparison to Adams, who pitched a complete-game shutout as the Pirates defeated Ty Cobb's Tigers 8-0. But don't tell that to Lackey, who was too caught up in the on-field euphoria to care if anyone was referring to Babe Adams, Babe Ruth or any other Babe, even those cavorting on one of Southern California's many sandy beaches.
"I've been waiting 24 years for this," said Lackey, who turned 24 on Wednesday, the day of his Game 4 start, which resulted in a no-decision. "There is definitely going to be some celebrating going on."
Before this season, Lackey said the biggest game he ever pitched came in the Junior College World Series for Grayson County College in 1999. He wasn't even on the Angels' Opening Day roster, instead starting the se ason at Triple-A Salt Lake.
But Saturday night, he got the word from manager Mike Scioscia that he would be starting Game 7. That JC World Series start will need to be bumped down a few notches on Lackey's resume.
"He said, 'We're going to go with you,' and I said, 'Good. I want it,' " said Lackey, who was 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA in the postseason.
Showing veteran confidence rather than rookie nerves, Lackey coasted through an easy 1-2-3 first inning before running into trouble in the second inning. With one out, he allowed singles to Benito Santiago and J.T. Snow before Reggie Sanders' sacrifice fly scored Santiago with the game's first run.
Then after the Angels responded with four runs in second and third innings without an assist from the Rally Monkey, Lackey went back to shutting down the Giants.
He even did the unthinkable -- pitch to Barry Bonds -- and survived nearly untattered, getting Bonds to line out to second base in the second inning and then yielding a harmless infield single in the fourth.
But even more important was Lackey's ability to blank the Giants' first three hitters -- Kenny Lofton, Rich Aurilia and Jeff Kent. The three hitters combined to go 0-for-7 against Lackey, giving Bonds no opportunities to do any damage with runners on.
"He was hitting the spots," said catcher Bengie Molina. "He was hitting the corners, mixing the curveball in and the slider. That's why he had a good game."
Lackey escaped trouble in the fourth inning, when the Giants had runners on first and second with one out. And then in the fifth, he got the first two outs before walking Lofton.
Lackey's first walk prompted another walk, from pitching coach Bud Black from the dugout to the mound. It also led to the first sign of movement in the Angels' bullpen.
"I said, 'John, you are throwing a hell of a game,'" Black said. " 'Take one pitch at a time, don't get ahead of yourself. Make a pitch right here and get back in the dugout.'"
And one pitch is all he made. Aurilia flew out to right field. Threat averted. Inning over. And Lackey's work was done after 86 pitches.
"We didn't really have him on the ropes much," said Giants manager Dusty Baker. "I kept watching his pitch count. I knew they were going to have to go to the bullpen soon. … When he gave them the fifth, that really sort of got them in the flow of (Brendan) Donnelly for two, (Francisco) Rodriguez , then (Troy Percival)."
Donnelly and Rodriguez? They are rookies just like Lackey, two others who started their seasons in the minor leagues.
For their splendid postseason efforts, the three have earned a spot on next season's Opening Day roster. For Lackey, a spot in the rotation is secure, considering he had the best ERA of any Angels' starter -- by far -- in the postseason.
Plus, it helps being the only starting pitcher in Angels' history to win Game 7 of the World Series.
"I'm a long way from Salt Lake," said Lackey.