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Angels not out of their depth

Lackey has his sixth consecutive strong effort since return from injury in a 4-2 win over Rays.

June 12, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The image lingers, hanging longer than any pitch the Angels' John Lackey tossed in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

The Atlanta Braves are coming to Anaheim for the three-game series this weekend. Thoughts of great pitching -- of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz -- flow in their wake.

Those are memories, somewhat distant ones, Braves fans can cling to in tough times. Those are expectations Angels fans may start to consider, even if Manager Mike Scioscia cringes a bit.

Lackey (3-1) walked off the mound at Angel Stadium after 7 1/3 strong innings, outdueling the Rays' Scott Kazmir. The Angels produced enough offense, which included further stirrings from Vladimir Guerrero. Francisco Rodriguez sealed the deal with his 24th consecutive save.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, June 13, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball: An item in Thursday's Sports section about the New York Yankees' new stadium gave its cost as $1.3 million. The cost is expected to be $1.3 billion. Also, an item about Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said he throws right-handed. Glavine throws left-handed.

It was a by-the-book effort, torn from the pages of the 1990s Braves, and left the Angels' starting pitchers with 34 victories this season, the most in the major leagues.

"Looking at this season, our starting pitching is as deep as any team in baseball," Scioscia said.

And beyond this season?

"That's premature," Scioscia said, though he added, "if we can scratch the surface of what Glavine and Maddux and Smoltz did over there, it is going to be a heck of a group. Our guys are terrific, those guys had three Hall of Famers in the rotation. It'd be a nice goal."

Kazmir, who had won six consecutive starts, retired the first 14 batters. But it was Lackey who was still around in the eighth inning, having pitched into at least the seventh inning for the sixth consecutive game since returning from a strained right triceps.

"When you're going against another guy who is that good, sometimes if you can outlast him, you end up winning," Lackey said. "You definitely don't want to give in to anyone."

Gary Matthews Jr. broke up Kazmir's perfect game with a homer in the fifth. Maicer Izturis' bases-loaded single erased a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead in the seventh. Guerrero provided a cushion with an eighth-inning home run, his third in the last four games.

The Angels have scored more than four runs in only four of their last 21 games, yet have a 15-6 record in that time.

"Bill Stoneman's philosophy was, 'If we're going to be a perennial contender, it has to be driven by pitching and defense,' " Scioscia said of the former general manager. "That's what Atlanta did and we made a lot of strides after the first couple years here.

"A lot of clubs have that vision and sometimes it's tough to achieve it. So we're excited to see the depth in our rotation emerge."

The benefits are like a pebble in a pond.

"We have had 30 terrific games from our starters," Scioscia said. "That keeps your bullpen in their roles."

That played out Wednesday. Lackey gave up a run in the first, but got out of a bases-loaded situation. He gave up another in the seventh, then turned the game over to Scot Shields with one out in the eighth. Rodriguez followed in the ninth.

"This is what we've seen from John since he's been back," Scioscia said. "He's picked up right from where he was last season."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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