10/12/2002 02:01 am ET
Lackey's a long way from Triple-A
Rookie gets the nod for Game 4 start on Saturday
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When big John Lackey first sauntered into the Angels clubhouse toward the end of June, he was a 6-foot-5 rookie with all of 26 Triple-A starts under his belt.
Come October, he's the type of pitcher Angels manager Mike Scioscia wants to have out there in a pivotal playoff game, namely Saturday's American League Championship Series Game 4.
There had been continued speculation that Scioscia might bring back veteran Kevin Appier on three days' rest instead of putting the 23-year-old out there, but time after time Scioscia has stood by Lackey as the man he wanted for the job.
"All along we knew we were going to have four starters going," Scioscia said Friday. "John Lackey's been a big part of our rotation all year. Hopefully, he's going to step up -- I shouldn't say 'step up' -- he's going to go out and give us the game that he's given us all year long. We're very comfortable and confident that John can do that."
Soon after, the big, young Texan sauntered into the press conference just as a question about what made Lackey not only stick but excel in the big leagues this season.
"When you're 6-5 and bigger than me and stronger than me, he kind of wrote his own ticket," Scioscia said, obviously for Lackey's benefit.
Of course, Lackey didn't pose any kind of threat to the Angels manager, a man who in his playing days as a catcher with the Dodgers was a 6-foot-2, 220-pound roadblock to runners at the plate and is that big and then some nowadays.
What happened was Lackey showed he could handle the highest level of competition from the get-go. He pitched at least six innings in each of his first four starts, and didn't allow more than three earned runs in any of them. He allowed more than four earned runs only once in his 18 starts.
He went on to post a 9-4 record with a 3.66 ERA -- both numbers ranking fourth among AL rookies.
Obviously, it clicked very quickly for the big Texan.
"Really, I think I just took some advice from some of the veterans and some of my coaches," said Lackey, who was 8-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts with Triple-A Salt Lake before his promotion. "They told me to just keep doing the things I was doing at Triple-A, because that's what got you here. Until they make adjustments to you, keep doing the same things you've been doing.
"I really try to stay aggressive and really just try to pitch my own game until the other team makes adjustments to what I'm doing."
That's how Lackey earned the right to pitch Game 4 of the ALCS -- by simply taking his success in the minors and running with it in The Show.
"He's going to go after guys, and he's going to make his pitches," Scioscia said. "He understands it's not always going to fall in for him the way you draw it up, but it doesn't back him off what he knows he needs to do out there on the mound. That's why he's been successful and pitched a lot of big games for us down the stretch."
Lackey didn't start in the Division Series, but he threw three shutout innings in relief of Ramon Ortiz in Game 3 of the Yankees, an effort that helped open the door for an Angels comeback in the pivotal game of that series.
Having gotten his first postseason outing out of the way, Lackey doesn't anticipate being too pumped up for Saturday's start. Actually, he got that out of the way back in September in a start against Oakland -- the only one he allowed more than four earned runs, giving up five in 4 1/3 innings on Sept. 11.
"I think I was a little too fired up for that one," he said. "I think I learned a lot from that start. I think that was a big lesson for me that I learned there. I don't think I'll have a problem with it."
Not much has been a problem for Lackey so far since he came to the big leagues to stay.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.