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Lackey, Spiezio Have Grand Night in Bronx

Starter picks up first win since April 11, first baseman gets two homers, five RBIs in 10-3 victory.

May 14, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The Angels' team bus rolled up to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, beneath a marquee that invited New Yorkers to come watch the "champion Angels." How gracious of the Yankees, and how humiliating for them.

But enough about the Yankees. Tuesday's news was that the Angels actually did resemble champions, at least for a night, with plenty of encouraging signs to suggest this year's team might have another pennant run in them.

With John Lackey and Scott Spiezio reprising their roles as October heroes, the Angels pummeled the Yankees, 10-3, the worst loss of the season for the team with the best record in the American League.

Spiezio, relegated to platoon status as his batting average dipped below .200, hit two home runs -- including a grand slam -- and set a career high by driving in five runs.

"It's a great feeling to hit two home runs any time, especially when you're 0 for 90," Spiezio said.

He was joking, but not by much. He was 0 for 25.

"It felt like 0 for 2003," he said.

As measured by victories, Lackey was one for 2003. With all due respect to Spiezio, the Angels can replace him at first base with Brad Fullmer and/or Shawn Wooten. Lackey is a cornerstone in the starting rotation, and the Angels have no good options if he falters. It is far more urgent to the Angels that Lackey recovers the form he displayed last season.

He entered the game with the worst earned-run average of any starter in the league, at 7.36. In seven of his first eight starts, he had failed to pitch a scoreless first inning.

The first batter Lackey faced Tuesday, noted bad-ball hitter Alfonso Soriano walked on four pitches. But, before you could say "omen," Lackey retired Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams, none of whom hit the ball out of the infield. He no-hit the Yankees through the first four innings.

And he won, for the first time since April 11, working six innings and giving up two runs. He junked his curve. He cut back on his two-seam, or sinking, fastball. He threw his four-seam fastball, the one with livelier movement, and sliders.

"I just really needed to get back to what I do best," he said. "I've been trying to do too many different things, and I didn't have my bread and butter when I got into jams."

He threw no curves Tuesday and said he had thrown only two when he won Game 7 of the World Series. Although Lackey insisted he never lost confidence in between, closer Troy Percival said the Angels couldn't be sure.

"You have to be concerned about guys who haven't been through a lot of rough times in the big leagues," Percival said.

Said Lackey: "I'll keep fighting through it. Just because I had one good start doesn't mean the rest of the season is going to be good."

Still, the Yankees were mildly startled. The losing pitcher was Mike Mussina, who was 7-0, with the best earned-run average of any starter in the league at 1.70.

"They said he's been having a tough time so far this year," Mussina said of Lackey. "It didn't look like that. He had good life on his pitches. We weren't getting good swings on them. He pitched a good game, and I didn't."

Mussina, who had given up two home runs in 53 innings this season, gave up two in the first four innings Tuesday, one to Spiezio and another to Garret Anderson.

Leadoff hitter David Eckstein had four hits and reached base five times. Adam Kennedy and Tim Salmon pulled off a double steal.

And, for the first time since April 9, Spiezio drove in more than one run. He drove in as many runs Tuesday as he had in his past 22 games. It had gotten so bad, he said, that when he batted with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, he was telling himself not to strike out or hit into a double play.

"That's a sign you're not hitting well," he said.

The grand slam that followed, he hopes, is a sign of better days ahead.

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