These are the glory days for the Angels. They used to go decades without a playoff appearance. Now they go to the playoffs just about every year.
When fans look back upon this era of excellence, John Lackey figures to be the starting pitcher who comes to mind. He earned his 100th win for the Angels on Sunday, joining Chuck Finley, Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana and Mike Witt in that distinguished club.
“It’s a big deal,” Lackey said. “The list is pretty short of guys who have done it in this uniform. Those are some pretty big names. It’s cool to be in the same sentence with those guys.”
Lackey, the Angels’ ace, celebrated his milestone with a victory party at the expense of his favorite opponents, scattering five hits over eight innings of a 9-1 triumph over the Oakland Athletics.
The Angels scored four runs in the fifth inning and five in the eighth, highlighted by three-run home runs from Torii Hunter and Kendry Morales.
Better known for pitching, speed and contact hitting, the Angels have hit 100 home runs in their last 70 games.
“We’re not going to give them back,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “When they’re there, we’ll take them.”
Morales’ home run was his 30th, making him the first Angel to hit that many since Vladimir Guerrero in 2006. He also set a club record by driving in 33 runs in August, breaking the mark of 31 set by Bobby Bonds in 1977.
Morales has one game to reach the club record for runs batted in in any month, 34, set by Don Baylor in July 1979 and tied by Jim Edmonds in July 1995.
Baylor went to the playoffs with the Angels once. Edmonds never did.
Finley, Ryan, Tanana and Witt combined to play 40 seasons with the Angels, with five playoff appearances. Lackey, in his eighth season with the Angels, could make his sixth playoff appearance.
“I’ve been fortunate to be here at a good time,” Lackey said. “Hopefully, I’ve been a part of making this a good team. I’m definitely not going to put myself ahead of any of those guys at all.”
He laughed at the question of how he would arrange a starting rotation with him alongside Finley, Ryan, Tanana and Witt.
“I’m a distant fifth,” said Lackey, who grew up in Texas. “Where I come from, you’re not allowed to say Nolan and your name in the same sentence.”
Ryan is now the president of the Texas Rangers. With his latest triumph over the A’s, Lackey helped restore the Angels’ five-game lead over the second-place Rangers in the American League West.
Lackey is 16-4 with a 2.54 earned-run average in 29 starts against Oakland. He has pitched 17 innings against the A’s this year, giving up eight hits and no earned runs.
“If I pitch to my capabilities, I like my chances against anybody,” he said.
Said Hunter: “You’ve got Roy Halladay, you’ve got Josh Beckett, you’ve got CC Sabathia and you’ve got Lackey. He’s one of the best.”
Finley, Ryan, Tanana and Witt each finished his career elsewhere. Lackey is eligible for free agency this fall.
Lackey said he enjoyed the chance to win his 100th game at home and appreciated the fan support. It was just the other day, it seemed to him, that he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, as a rookie. He’s 30 now, the oldest guy in the starting rotation.
“It’s definitely weird to be the oldest guy,” he said. “I don’t feel I’ve been here that long.”
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On Sunday, John Lackey became the fifth pitcher to notch 100 wins for the Angels:
Chuck Finley: 165-140 (1986-99)
Nolan Ryan: 138-121 (1973-79)
Mike Witt: 109-107 (1981-90)
Frank Tanana: 102-78 (1973-80)
John Lackey: 100-70 (2002-)