Prior to what figured to be an emotional start against his former team, John Lackey was lounging in the Red Sox clubhouse, watching the Orioles-Yankees afternoon game on TV. He didn’t seem overly interested. It was just another game.
Lackey took the same approach a few hours later as he stepped to the mound to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the only organization he ever knew before signing a five-year contract with Boston this offseason.
It was just another game.
"We needed a win, that’s the bottom line," Lackey said when asked if it was difficult to keep his emotions in check during a 3-1 win over the Angels. "They know how I am when I’m between the lines. It’s business time. I’ll be friends later."
That mentality is what made Lackey the Los Angeles ace for years. It was just another game when he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie. It was just another game in each of his 14 postseason appearances, during which he had a 3.12 ERA. It was just another game in each of his 102 wins for the Angels, good for fourth on the team’s all-time list.
And when things are status quo in his head, the physical part of Lackey’s game often looks the same. He induced groundball after groundball against his old team Wednesday night, the recipe for success which attracted the Red Sox to the big righty in the first place.
Lackey recorded a total of 12 ground balls in seven innings, during which he allowed just two hits. With several of the grounders showcasing the standout defenders in the Boston infield, the outing was very much what the club had envisioned when it put together a unit based on pitching and defense.
"'Lack' was so good," manager Terry Francona said. "When he needed to make pitches he did, and we played a good defensive game.
"When you get good pitching, even if you’re not putting crooked numbers up on the board, you look crisp."
After two strikeouts in the first, Lackey’s support system arrived in the second. With a man on first and nobody out, Hideki Matsui chopped one off the plate that sailed over Lackey’s head. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has yet to commit an error in 2010, charged full speed and plucked the ball off the turf before firing to first for the out and sliding head-first into the mound.
"When the ball was hit I was like, Oh, tough-luck hit," Lackey said. "[Pedroia’s] one of the best in the game for a reason."
The play set the tone for a spectacular night for Lackey and those behind him.
With a man on and one out in the third, Adrian Beltre dodged a broken bat to start an inning-ending double play. Three more groundouts came in the fourth, two in the fifth, three in the six and two more in the seventh, the last of which featured shortstop Marco Scutaro ranging up the middle, spinning and firing to first to get the speedy Howie Kendrick.
"The guys took care of me tonight," Lackey said. "When you get ground balls you need your guys to make plays and they certainly did that."
Catcher Victor Martinez said the curveball down in the zone was getting the job done for Lackey. The right-hander’s demeanor, even against his old mates, was also a big factor, according to Martinez.
"I saw the same Lackey I saw in spring training," Martinez said. "Nice and calm on the mound and he wasn’t rushing. He was just out there and making his pitches. …He is so relaxed on the mound."
Even when facing the team that drafted him 11 years ago and turned him into one of the best pitchers in franchise history.
To Lackey, they were just another team.
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