Lackey familiar with pitching in unfavorable conditions
Lackey familiar with pitching in unfavorable conditions
By Jason Mastrodonato and Doug Miller
DETROIT -- As a whole, it's probably safe to throw Red Sox right-hander John Lackey's home/road splits out the window this time.
Simply looking at those and suggesting that gloom lies ahead in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on Tuesday (4 p.m. ET, FOX) might be shortsighted.
This is the postseason. As Jon Lester said after his gem in Game 1, this is a totally different atmosphere.
And with the Red Sox receiving a boost from their improbable, 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Detroit in Game 2 to knot the series, there's a lot of positivity flowing through the Boston clubhouse.
"It was a lot of fun last night," Lackey said during Monday's afternoon workout at Comerica Park. "It was great. Guys kept fighting to the end. To win that game was huge for us, obviously. Coming over here down two games would have been tough."
Optimism abounds, even for a guy who's been through a bit of the opposite during his Red Sox tenure.
Key stat: Verlander hasn't allowed a run in his last 28 innings pitched, dating back to Sept. 18.
Key stat: In his lone postseason start in the ALDS against the Rays, Lackey gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
At Comerica Park
2013: 17 GS, 6-7, 3.73 ERA Career: 130 GS, 72-32, 3.09 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 ERA Career: 6 GS, 4-1, 3.83 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 1 GS, 0-0, 7.20 ERA Career: 11 GS, 3-4, 3.63 ERA
2013: 2 GS, 0-1, 3.14 ERA Career: 12 GS, 6-3, 3.86 ERA
Loves to face: Dustin Pedroia, 1-for-18, 3 K Hates to face:: David Ortiz, 10-for-27, 4 2B, 2 HR
Loves to face: Alex Avila, 0-for-7, 3 K Hates to face:: Victor Martinez, 11-for-29, 1 2B, 4 BB
Why he'll win: Verlander was dominant in the ALDS against the A's, striking out 21 in 15 scoreless innings over two starts.
Why he'll win: Lackey has good history pitching in Detroit and only allowed two runs in seven innings at Comerica on June 20.
Pitcher beware: Verlander was worse at home this year, posting a 6-7 record with a 3.73 ERA.
Pitcher beware: Lackey struggled on the road, going 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP this season.
Bottom line: Verlander has been at his best over his last four starts, and will be tough to beat.
Bottom line: Lackey wasn't at his sharpest in the ALDS, and will have to improve to match Verlander.
Remember, for example, all those boos Lackey had to listen to as he walked off the Fenway Park mound following one of his rough starts in 2011? Getting booed by Tigers fans in Detroit should hardly compare to that.
"He's not short on pitching in unfavorable conditions," said Boston manager John Farrell. "Whether it's in a postseason game in New York, and certainly one that's going to be in Detroit, we're talking about a guy that's pitched at the highest level on the biggest stage that the game has to offer.
"Given what he's come through, I'm sure that he'll relish the moments he's out there, knowing that he's come back from Tommy John [surgery], the way he's reshaped his own perception and certainly his body, and we're looking forward to John being on the mound on Tuesday."
Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter still doesn't understand it.
Hunter, who played with Lackey on the Angels in 2008 and '09, has a hard time grasping the difference in perception. Lackey could be so loved by his teammates while simultaneously disdained by the fans.
"It's weird," Hunter said. "Last year, some negativity, or two years ago, I didn't get that because Lackey is freaking awesome, man."
And the Fenway fans finally got to see that and acknowledge it.
It was Lackey's final regular-season start at Fenway in 2013. Lackey threw a two-hitter in a 3-1 win over the Orioles on Sept. 19 and received a standing ovation.
"I tell you, there are quite a few times I got chills in this building," teammate Jonny Gomes said. "But being a player, knowing what it's like to go through some bumps and grinds and failure, when he was in the game at the end at home before we closed the season out, and this whole place was chanting 'Lackey,' I mean, not a lot of people know what it's like just to get buried in the media and get buried in the clubhouse and get buried in the city that you play for like he did.
"And he bottled all that up and turned it into a positive and nailed it this offseason and nailed it this season on the mound. And that's another reason why this game is so great. When this whole place was chanting 'Lackey,' that was something special. It was definitely well deserved."
Lackey had won back the home fans. He posted a 2.47 ERA in 91 innings at Fenway this season and showed Bostonians what Hunter already knew.
"He was out all last year, but he's a lot of fun," Hunter said. "Good in the clubhouse, fun off the field. Always smiling, always laughing. He's a good teammate. He's just a competitor on the mound. He goes crazy. He wants that big pitch."
And he's thrown the biggest ones.
In 2002, he was a 24-year-old rookie when he won Game 7 of the World Series for the Angels over Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and the Giants. He became the first rookie to win a Game 7 in the Fall Classic since Babe Adams did it for the Pirates in 1909.
Bonds and Kent have since retired, but Lackey has other sluggers to worry about, such as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and the rest of a solid, unrelenting Detroit lineup.
Lackey elicited a few interview-room laughs on Monday when he was asked how he'd pitch to Cabrera.
"I'd be kind of dumb to tell you how I'm going to do that right now, I think," Lackey said. "He's like David [Ortiz]. There's not one way I can go about it. I'm going to have to make a lot of good pitches in a lot of different spots. He's really good."
Lackey will need to be really good to beat the Tigers on Tuesday, but a look inside his numbers in 2013 reveals some interesting splits.
On the road, he had a 4.48 ERA. But much of that was inflated because of the ballparks in which he was pitching.
It's no surprise that runs come easier in certain Major League parks. Pitching in stadiums that rank in the top 10 in MLB Park Factors, according to ESPN.com, Lackey had a 5.04 ERA in 55 1/3 innings. In all other stadiums, Lackey had a 2.89 ERA in 133 innings.
He pitched better in bigger parks. So, too, do most pitchers.
In his one start at Comerica Park in 2013, Lackey held the Tigers to two runs over seven innings. He allowed six homers this season that would not have gone out of Comerica due to its deep center field.
"It's a pretty big ballpark," he said. "I feel like we have some room in the outfield. I felt comfortable there for most of my career, for sure.
"Right field there is definitely not as big as it is here. As it moves to the gap, it gets pretty big, but if you can keep the ball up the middle, you have some room in center field."
Comerica may actually play well for Lackey. The booing shouldn't make a difference.