10/23/2002 11:24 pm ET
Memorable birthday for Lackey
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- In most cases, 24 is not an exciting age. What's significant about 24? Well, let's see ... you're a year away from hitting the "quarter century" mark. You're in the last year of being able to check the first box -- '18-24' -- before moving on to that much scarier 25-34 age group. You're one year away from being able to rent a car without having to get your mom's signature.
But John Lackey celebrated his 24th birthday in an unforgettable setting, one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that go by as fast as lightning but will undoubtedly stick in his mind for a long to time to come.
Lackey, a rookie right-hander who didn't even make his big-league debut until halfway through the 2002 season and has all of 94 days of Major League service under his belt, was the Angels' starting pitcher for Game 4 of the World Series on Wednesday. And though he received a no-decision in his team's 4-3 loss, from here on out, Oct. 23 will likely stand out in Lackey's mind as more than just the day he was born.
"Today I'll definitely remember this one," he said. "I won't remember it being the happiest one ever but we'll be back tomorrow, let's see what happens."
But wait, it gets better. Not many pitchers can say that their first-ever big-league hit came in their first-ever plate appearance, and during the Fall Classic, of all things. Apparently, this wasn't just any typical day for the birthday boy, and when he connected for a base hit off Kirk Rueter in the second inning, he reached the milestone in front of a worldwide audience -- not to mention a very hostile Pacific Bell Park crowd.
"I was thinking of bunting at first and then I looked pretty bad trying to do that," he said. "Then I was happy I got to swing."
And this wasn't just an "excuse me" hit. Lackey put a legitimate swing on the ball, which landed squarely in right field to load the bases for David Eckstein, who drove in the Angels' first run with a sacrifice fly.
"I hit the ball pretty decent," Lackey admitted. "I'm not really thinking about it too much because of the loss, but I used to be able to hit a little bit."
When? College. Which, incidentally, wasn't that long ago -- just three years -- making it all that more astounding that someone of his age would be starting Game 4 on baseball's premier stage. Has the enormity of the World Series sunk in?
"I've taken it in a little bit but it's a situation where if you think about it too much you might think, 'Oh this is great,
we're just here.' I don't want to be complacent about it. I want to keep pushing and win this thing. You've got to take
advantage of these opportunities because you never know how often you'll have them in your career."
Lackey might have downplayed the significance of pitching on his birthday, but a crew of approximately 10 family members and friends watched from the stands on his special night.
"They were probably screaming and yelling a little bit and then quieted down toward the end," Lackey said, referring to his exit from the game after allowing three runs over five frames.
So no "Happy birthday, John" signs from the Lackey contingent at Pacific Bell?
"I didn't look too much in the stands," he laughed. "I was pretty locked in. But you know ...if they did, I'd prefer not to know."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.