Lackey should be careful what he asks for . . . he just got it
BOSTON -- Six weeks ago, assigned to pitch the first game of a doubleheader here against the Boston Red Sox, John Lackey whined.
He wanted the marquee second game. He wanted the Friday night lights. He wanted Josh Beckett.
“I live for moments like that,” he complained at the time.
On Wednesday, finally given that moment, it buried him.
He wanted the lights? They blinded him.
He wanted the marquee? It crushed him.
He wanted Josh Beckett? On a cool Fenway Park night that left him red-faced and sweating, Lackey couldn’t handle Josh Beckett.
The Red Sox dominated the Angels, 4-0, in a division series opener that began with two of the American League’s best pitchers.
And ended with only one ace.
Beckett, who led the league with 20 wins, threw a four-hit shutout.
Lackey, who led the league with a 3.01 ERA, had given up four hits by the second inning.
Beckett, a former World Series-clinching Game 6 winner, retired 19 consecutive hitters at one point.
Lackey, a former World Series Game 7 winner, gave up two homers and four runs in 19 consecutive hitters.
Beckett strutted off the mound beaming.
Lackey staggered out of the clubhouse befuddled.
Said Beckett: “You find out what kind of pitcher you are that day.”
Said Lackey: “I just didn’t pitch good enough.”
On an Angels team whose rotation and lineup runs as deep as the throaty Boston accent that mocks them, there is rarely any need for one player to carry them.
But on Wednesday, the Angels needed Lackey to do so.
They were battling injuries, with their center fielder out, and their right fielder too sore to throw, and their left fielder playing with an infected right eye that was nearly swollen shut.
They were battling history, having not beaten the Red Sox in a playoff game since before Dave Henderson took Donnie Moore deep 21 years ago, having won only 14 of their last 36 games at Fenway Park.
They stepped into the booing masses with problems that only a starting pitcher can fix. They were desperate for the sort of October momentum that only a starting pitcher can provide.
They needed John Lackey.
Instead, they got John Lacking.
Battling his own demons -- he had a 7.46 career ERA in Fenway Park -- Lackey allowed them to consume him.
Standing on a mound amid a giant grass cutout of the Red Sox logo, it was as if those two socks slowly swallowed him.
“Nothing is ever going to get in my head, I’m not concerned about that,” he said.
That boldness wasn’t evident in his pitching, his answers to the Angels’ prayers being twofold.
Ball one, and ball two.
“He got behind too many guys,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, shaking his head.
Lackey fell behind his second hitter, Kevin Youkilis, before Youkilis jacked a fastball over the Green Monster for a 1-0 Red Sox lead.
He fell behind Youkilis again in the third inning before Youkilis doubled into the left-field corner. With first base open, he then tried to pitch around David Ortiz when he hung a curveball that Ortiz crushed into the right-field stands to make it 3-0.
Even when he tried to throw a ball out of the strike zone, it didn’t work.
“They have too good of an offense to do that,” Scioscia said.
In that same third inning, Lackey walked Manny Ramirez, fell behind Mike Lowell on a wild pitch, then allowed Lowell to punch a ball into center field to make it 4-0.
By the time Lackey left, he had given up four runs and nine hits in six innings, essentially double his season ERA and impossible for the Angels to overcome against Beckett.
“When you go against somebody pitching that well, you need a little help,” Lackey said. “Your margin of error is not real high.”
Beckett didn’t ask for help. Beckett didn’t talk about margin of error.
Beckett kept his head down, threw first pitch strikes to 25 of 31 hitters, epitomized the best of October with an answer that was opposite of Lackey’s.
“He was strike one, strike two,” said the Angels’ Casey Kotchman.
The Angels offense didn’t make it any harder on him.
Orlando Cabrera stood still for balls on only three out of 13 pitches, hacking his way to four outs without the ball ever leaving the infield.
In one inning, Mike Napoli, Reggie Willits and Chone Figgins were retired on eight pitches total.
Then there was Garret Anderson, who claimed he could see through his swollen eye, yet swung as wildly as a blindfolded kid under a piata.
He went 0 for 4 while taking only one pitch the entire night. The close-up TV images of Anderson attempting to hit with one eye shut were a shocking metaphor for a team that never had a chance.
If Anderson can’t see 100% by Friday, he should unselfishly bench himself for Game 2.
As for Lackey, he just needs to open his eyes wider. He wants these moments, he longs for these lights? He needs to embrace them tighter, play them smarter, bend it like Beckett.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.