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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL

Questions come back in one game

October 02, 2008|Bill Shaikin

Uh oh.

The streaks live, all of them, all the haunting October memories the Angels could have extinguished with one victory.

It took the Angels six months to earn home-field advantage, three hours to lose it. It took the Angels six months to win 100 games, three hours to turn their next game into a must-win.

It took the Angels six months to build themselves into World Series favorites, with Mark Teixeira and an offense fortified for October, three hours to resurrect all those nagging questions, to remind us good pitching alone cannot beat good hitting.

John Lackey reminded us, and his teammates too. Lackey is a team player and clubhouse leader, but he basically called out the offense after Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

He did not say he should have pitched better. He tipped his cap to Boston pitcher Jon Lester, but he wasn't putting this loss all on himself, not after he gave up a two-run home run and nothing else.

"We've got to find a way to score some runs," Lackey said. "It's pretty frustrating when one pitch can lose the game for you."

Frustration by the numbers: 10 consecutive playoff losses to the Red Sox, seven consecutive playoff losses overall, 57 postseason innings without a home run, 78 postseason innings without a lead of more than one run.

And, for Lackey, the ace, five consecutive postseason starts in a row without a victory.

This could have gone away, all of it, with a couple of two-run home runs Wednesday. The Angels couldn't even manage an extra-base hit.

"You've got to find a way to score runs in the postseason," he said. "You face good pitching every night."

The Angels have a clutch hit within them, surely. That's how they won the World Series in 2002, more timely hitting than power hitting.

Yet they scored one run Wednesday, and it was not earned. They went one for seven with runners in scoring position. They went two for 22 in that situation last fall.

October is pressure enough for a pitcher. The Angels have to do better than to send their pitcher to work without a margin for error.

Lackey performed admirably, given that one run and nothing else. He kept the Red Sox off the scoreboard until the sixth inning, when Jason Bay hit a two-run home run.

Game over.

Lackey did not say he wished he had the pitch back, or he wished he had thrown a shutout.

"The fact we're talking about one pitch? Let's be honest," Lackey said.

He added: "I felt like I did fine."

Manager Mike Scioscia said he understood the emotions behind Lackey's sentiments.

"There's always going to be frustration when you're not scoring runs," Scioscia said. "Every pitch is going to be magnified.

"Some hits early would have made a difference in how John pitched and maybe let him relax. He didn't make many mistakes. He pitched well."

Lackey secured his place in Angels' lore by winning Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, as a rookie. He hasn't won in October since then.

Not all his fault, certainly not Wednesday.

The Red Sox love to take pitches, so Lackey threw first-pitch strikes to the first 12 batters. The Angels scored their run in the bottom of the third, and he had his first October lead in 14 innings. He persevered through the fourth, and the fifth, and into the sixth.

He still had that 1-0 lead, battling doggedly on a wicked hot night better suited to July in Texas, where Lackey grew up. In the sixth, the velocity on his fastball dropped, just a little, from 91 to 93 mph to 89 to 91 mph.

He got David Ortiz to pop up. He walked Kevin Youkilis. He struck out J.D. Drew. And then Bay crushed an 0-1 fastball, beyond the bullpens, deep into the left-field bleachers.

The Red Sox hardly routed Lackey. He gave up two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He'll get the loss in the box score, but the loss should not be his alone to bear.

Yet Lackey could be the pivotal pitcher in this series. He'll pitch again, if the Angels do not get swept, and the responsibility for victory might be his.

He could make a name for himself as an Angels legend. He could go where no Angels pitcher has gone before, and he might need to.

The Angels have played 49 postseason games. They never have pitched a shutout.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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