John Lackey could have glanced around at the sellout crowd banging noise sticks and cheering wildly for an Angel victory and lost himself in visions of his brilliant performance last season in Game 7 of the World Series.
Only the 24-year-old was mature enough to realize he was confronting a new challenge Sunday at Edison Field as the Angels opened the season against the Texas Rangers.
“We put last year behind us during spring training,” said Lackey, who became the second rookie pitcher to win a World Series Game 7 when he held the San Francisco Giants to four hits and one run in five innings.
“I was just trying to get us off to a good start this year.”
Lackey pitched the same number of innings Sunday as he did during the biggest game of his fledgling career, but all comparisons end there. He gave up eight hits and five runs in the Angels’ 6-3 loss.
“It was just a lack of command,” said Lackey, who threw 56 of his 90 pitches for strikes. “I wasn’t getting ahead enough, and when I started getting ahead they were on top of it and started swinging at first-pitch fastballs.”
After a 27-pitch first inning in which he surrendered one run, Lackey appeared to settle down as he retired seven of the next eight batters.
Then came a difficult stretch in the fourth, when three consecutive Texas batters smacked first-pitch fastballs for hits. Michael Young followed singles by Ruben Sierra and Hank Blalock with a three-run home run to center field.
The only bad pitch Lackey threw in that three-pitch sequence, according to Angel catcher Bengie Molina, was the one to Young.
“We wanted to be a little more inside on that,” Molina said.
In the fifth, Alex Rodriguez tagged Lackey for a towering home run -- No. 299 of his career -- to put the Rangers ahead, 5-2. After retiring the next three batters, Lackey was done for the evening.
If nothing else, Lackey was able to maintain a sense of humor despite his disappointment.
Asked if the loss ruined the pageantry of the opener, Lackey said: “It’s one game, man. I think we might lose again this year.”