ARLINGTON -- For eight innings, John Lackey was dominant. He'd thrown 87 pitches, and the Rangers had two singles and a walk. With his sixth career shutout in sight, Lackey stumbled, but his team didn't fall. The Angels held on for a 6-3 decision that left the Sammy Sosa fans among the 30,782 inside Rangers Ballpark in Arlington with a memory: Sosa's 596th career homer, courtesy of a Lackey fastball that was his 95th, and last, delivery.
"Even though the last inning didn't go as scripted," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "the bigger picture is John got us 25 outs against a tough offensive ballclub in a park that can be difficult to pitch in. That's as good a game as I've seen him pitch." Lackey, who moved to 5-3 and shaved his ERA to 2.70, had seven strikeouts while issuing one walk. He didn't seem overly impressed, chalking this one up to throwing a lot of good fastballs in good locations. "I definitely wanted to try to finish it off," Lackey said. "I challenged them [in the ninth], and they found a couple holes." Sosa found a seat in the left-field stands with his lofty drive following a single by Kenny Lofton and RBI double by Michael Young to the gap in right-center. "He's hit 500-some home runs," Lackey said with a shrug when asked about the pitch to Sosa. "I threw him that pitch about eight times tonight, and he finally hit it." On the heels of Kelvim Escobar's shutout against Cleveland on Thursday in Anaheim, Lackey held the Rangers to two singles and a Sosa walk (on a questionable check swing) through eight innings -- one day after the Rangers had erupted for 14 runs and 16 hits against the Yankees in New York. If Lackey had managed to throw one more zero on the board, the Angels would have had back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1989. After Mark Teixeira's two-out single in the first, Lackey set down 16 consecutive hitters. Young broke that streak with a leadoff single in the seventh, and a walk to Sosa following a Teixiera strikeout put the first Rangers baserunner in scoring position. Lackey retired Hank Blalock and Ian Kinsler to keep his shutout intact. The Angels had seized the lead against Vicente Padilla (1-5) in the third on consecutive singles by Chone Figgins, Reggie Willits and Orlando Cabrera for one run and a sacrifice fly by Gary Matthews on a bullet to center for another. Willits' single and Cabrera's double were the key blows in a two-run fifth that included an RBI by Matthews on a fielder's choice that could have been an inning-ending double play. Kinsler was charged with an error as the ball shot through his legs, making the second run unearned. Kendry Morales had an RBI double during a two-run ninth. "Early runs by our guys helped a lot," Lackey said. "I was able to challenge guys and get ahead. I threw a lot of fastballs, definitely. "It's a tough place to pitch, and they've got a good lineup." Lackey, a multi-sport star at Abilene High School, said he left about 20 passes for family and friends, but that six years in the Major Leagues have taken some of the novelty out of pitching in his home state. Catcher Mike Napoli marveled at Lackey's ability to consistently hit his target with the heater, adding that "his curveball was awesome, too." Napoli tried to preserve the shutout on Young's drive to the right-center gap in the ninth, smothering Erick Aybar's strong relay throw but losing the ball as he tried to apply the tag on Lofton. The Angels won on a night they didn't get a hit from Vladimir Guerrero, who walked twice. The well-known Rangers nemesis came into the four-game series with a .437 career average against Texas. Willits (hitting .362) and Cabrera each had a pair of hits at the top of the order, and the Angels got production throughout the latest lineup creation by Scioscia. Matthews, in the cleanup spot for the first time, delivered a pair of RBIs in his return to the ballpark he called home for three seasons and handled seven chances in center field. "We swung the bats well," Scioscia said. "We hit three or four balls on the nose and didn't have anything to show for it. Obviously, the error by Kinsler helped." The win was the third in a row for the Angels and the fifth in their past seven on the road.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.