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Angels Aren't Lacking

Lackey continues strong run with seven shutout innings in a 7-0 victory. Defense lets down Weaver.

June 25, 2005|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Take away John Lackey's first three games this season, and a strong case could be made for the Angel right-hander starting the July 12 All-Star game.

That's how good Lackey has been since mid-April, when the 26-year-old tweaked his curveball a bit and his mental approach a bunch, starting a torrid two-month stretch that continued in Friday night's 7-0 interleague victory over the Dodgers before an announced 44,056 in Angel Stadium.

Lackey limited the depleted Dodgers to three hits in seven shutout innings, striking out nine and walking one, as the Angels (43-29) recorded their second consecutive shutout, pushed their win streak to four and their lead over Texas in the American League West to a season-high 5 1/2 games.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, lost for the ninth time in 11 games, the positive vibes of two wins in San Diego and Friday's encouraging news about closer Eric Gagne evaporating during a debacle of a fifth inning in which starter Jeff Weaver's perfect game turned into a perfect storm of miscues, the Dodgers dropping a popup, failing to field a playable grounder and watching a bloop fall for a run-scoring hit.

The Angels took advantage, scoring two unearned runs that inning. Garret Anderson added a solo home run in the sixth, Adam Kennedy's bloop fell for an RBI double in the seventh, and Dallas McPherson put the game out of reach with a three-run home run off Dodger reliever Franquelis Osoria in the eighth, as the Angels pushed their record to a season-high 14 games over .500.

"Weaver was throwing a great game against us, but the way Lackey was pitching, the way he was putting up zeroes, you felt we were going to get something going," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We caught a little break on the popup and got some big two-out hits. And Lackey was terrific on the mound."

Nothing new there.

In his last 12 starts, Lackey (6-2) has gone 5-1 with a 2.56 earned-run average to lower his season ERA to 3.50.

Lackey also continued an incredible string of games against National League opponents at home.

Including Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, which Lackey won over the San Francisco Giants, Lackey has started seven games against NL opponents in Angel Stadium and is a perfect 6-0 with a 1.19 ERA, limiting opponents to a .208 average with no home runs in those starts.

Lackey had a 1-1 record and 8.22 ERA in his first three starts this season, his occasional mental lapses leading to mistake pitches and the kind of big innings that plagued him throughout 2004.

After giving up seven runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 7-6 loss to Oakland on April 17, Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black held a lengthy closed-door meeting with Lackey, stressing the need to remain cool in the face of adversity, to not throw harder or try to get a bigger break on his curve when he gets in trouble.

Since then, Lackey has been almost unbeatable.

"He's repeating pitches, getting the ball in spots he wants, but his makeup on the mound has been just as important," Scioscia said. "He understands he can bend a bit and not break.... If he keeps his focus, gets to the next pitch the way he's been doing the last 12 starts, he's going to have a terrific career."

This was what the Angels expected out of Lackey after he came up in 2002 and, as a rookie, went 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 18 games.

But those expectations overwhelmed Lackey at times during the next two years.

"He has a tremendous competitive streak, and the expectations he set after 2002 were off the charts -- how many rookies win Game 7 of the World Series?" Scioscia said. "Now, he understands what he has to do. His in-game management is better. He's making adjustments."

Weaver was just as good, if not better, for the better part of five innings Friday night. The lanky right-hander retired the first 14 Angels he faced and should have carried that perfect game into the sixth inning, but with two out in the fifth, rookie third baseman Antonio Perez, a second baseman by trade, appeared to call for -- and then lose -- McPherson's towering popup in the twilight.

Shortstop Cesar Izturis stepped in at the last second in an attempt to rescue Perez, but the ball nicked off Izturis' glove and dropped for a two-base error.

"It was my fault," Perez said. "I didn't catch the ball. I didn't see the popup."

Jeff DaVanon followed with a grounder up the middle, but second baseman Jeff Kent couldn't backhand the ball, which ticked off his glove and into center field for a hit that scored McPherson for a 1-0 Angel lead.

Weaver then walked Orlando Cabrera on four pitches, and Kennedy followed with a bloop single to left, extending his hitting streak to 12 games and scoring DaVanon for a 2-0 lead.

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