Lackey Still Unable to Control His First
There is no crisis of confidence. John Lackey dropped the Angels into a hole yet again, but he confronted the question loud and clear.
“Nothing,” he said, “is going to get into my head. That’s not going to be a concern. Ever.”
Lackey pitched his best game of the season so far, working five shutout innings Friday in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Unfortunately for the Angels, those innings were the second through sixth. In the first, Carlos Delgado tagged Lackey for a three-run home run, more than enough for the Blue Jays to prevail on a night Cory Lidle pitched a three-hitter.
For the sixth time in seven starts this season, Lackey failed to pitch a scoreless first inning. The Angels are 2-5 in his starts.
Neither Lackey nor Manager Mike Scioscia fears the trend will linger so long that the pitcher will develop mental scars about first-inning flaws. Lackey needed 34 pitches to escape the first inning Friday, uncomfortably close to his season average of 29.
But he breezed through the next five innings in a total of 72 pitches, a sign that he is recovering his ability to pitch to the corners of the strike zone. And, for the first time in 25 major league starts, he did not walk a batter.
“Today was different,” he said. “I didn’t get myself into trouble.”
Scioscia, sensing that Lackey was reverting to his strong rookie form, was delighted with the six-inning, three-run outing and was not disturbed by another rocky first inning.
“They hit some pitches that were decent,” Scioscia said. “After that, he did a terrific job. I didn’t think that first inning was all that horrible.”
Lackey needed seven pitches to retire leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart, then gave up singles to Frank Catalanotto and Vernon Wells. Delgado, who leads the major leagues with 31 runs batted in, then golfed an outside fastball 421 feet for an opposite-field home run.
“I probably should have just walked Delgado,” Lackey said, “and tried my luck with the next couple guys. He’s a guy we didn’t want to let beat us, and he beat us.”
He did indeed, because Lidle baffled the Angels with a variety of pitches at a variety of speeds. Lidle made 103 pitches, retiring the Angels in order in every inning but the fourth and seventh.
In the fourth, Tim Salmon extended his hitting streak to 19 games with his seventh home run. In the seventh, the Angels loaded the bases with one out, on singles by Salmon and Garret Anderson and a walk to Troy Glaus.
Brad Fullmer, who leads the American League with a .378 average, then poked a soft line drive at third baseman Eric Hinske, who caught the ball and dived onto the base, beating Salmon back to the bag and completing an inning-ending double play.
“You’re talking tenths of seconds there,” Salmon said. “You’re in no-man’s land, and you’re done.”
So was Fullmer, on a pitch that typified Lidle’s evening.
“He swung at a 90-mph fastball,” Lidle said. “He got an 84-mph fastball.”
Lidle retired the final six batters in order, but not without interruption. With two out in the ninth, a fan raced onto the field and toward second base, apparently wanting nothing more than to tag the bag. But Toronto second baseman Orlando Hudson, worried that the man might be headed toward shortstop Chris Woodward, shoved the man, slowing him until three security guards tackled him and escorted him off the field.
The fan will be charged with trespassing. The episode ended safely, allowing players to exhale.
“I would have gotten out of the way and let him run,” Delgado said. “He was probably drunk enough to fall down on his own.”
Lackey, a football hero during his high school days in Texas, said he might have taken a different approach had the guy rushed him.
“I’m sure I could have handled him on my own,” Lackey said. “The boys back home would get on me pretty hard if I let some guy like him rough me up.”