SEATTLE -- For their biggest game of the season thus far, the Angels had the right combination to throw at the Mariners. John Lackey -- in a diminished condition with a throat infection -- worked the body, and Garret Anderson landed the haymaker. Anderson homered and lashed a two-run double in his first two at-bats, setting an assertive tone and sending Lackey on his way to a gritty 6-0 decision in front of 45,998 at Safeco Field.
The win, lifting the Angels' American League West lead to three games over the Mariners, assured the tourists they would still be occupying the driver's seat when they depart Seattle after Wednesday's matinee wraps up the three-game series. "I think it speaks volumes what he did tonight," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said of Lackey. "To go out and make pitches, battle through it ... it shows his dedication. His strength took over. Mentally, you can't break this guy -- and physically, he puts in all the work." Lackey's mastery of the Angels' chief rivals this season has been nothing short of remarkable. In three games, covering 24 innings, the Mariners are still looking for their first run against the 6-foot-6 Texan. He moved to 16-8, joining Boston's Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield as the Majors' leaders in wins. The Angels are 9-4 against the Mariners. Lackey began to feel something coming on during the flight from Anaheim to Seattle on Sunday evening. But he left no doubt that he'd be going to the post; it was his day to pitch, and it was a big game. "I didn't have to ask him," Butcher said. "I walked in today and he's riding a bike. He wasn't coming out. And I wasn't going to put any negative thoughts in his mind before the game started." All those thoughts belonged to the other side, which managed seven hits but was thwarted every time it threatened, Lackey finishing with five strikeouts while getting a pair of big double plays in the sixth and seventh innings. Lackey likes pressure, thrives on it. He showed that as a rookie, winning Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. Five years later, nothing has changed. Put the ball in his right hand in a big game, and the big man knows what to do with it. "That's an incredible effort by John," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, Lackey having used 109 pitches to throw his second complete-game shutout of the year, both against Seattle. Coming off back-to-back losses to the Red Sox and Yankees only heightened Lackey's desire, Butcher felt, to take this challenge. "After those two losses, he wants to prove he's the type of pitcher who's going to be a stopper for us -- prove to himself and our team we can rely on him," Butcher said. "I think that was some motivation -- but the real motivation is we're playing Seattle. All these games mean a lot." While Lackey was rebounding from an uncharacteristic rough spell -- 11 runs (nine earned) and 20 hits in 11 combined innings against Boston and New York -- Anderson kept on doing what he's been doing. The Jamaal Wilkes of left fielders, smooth as silk, Anderson looks locked in with his power stroke on the heels of his two-homer, 10-RBI performance against the Yankees. He has four homers and 14 RBIs in his past eight games, raising his slugging percentage from .415 to .462. Toronto's Justin McGowan found out on Sunday that it's not a good idea to try to sneak a fastball -- even one in the mid-90s -- past Anderson when he's feeling it. Anderson lifted it into the seats in right-center, sending Kelvim Escobar on his way to a big win. After getting through a scoreless first inning, Batista put an 0-1 changeup pitch in Anderson's wheelhouse leading off the second, and Garret unloaded again to right-center. "He's a good pitcher," Anderson said. "I was fortunate to get the bat on it." That much-discussed spot behind Vladimir Guerrero in the Angels batting order seems to be in good hands -- the sure hands of the franchise's all-time leader in RBIs, hits and total bases. In the third, bases loaded and two outs, Anderson showed he still has lightning-quick reflexes. Down 1-2 in the count, he lashed a 93 mph two-seam fastball from Batista down the right-field line, where a fan leaned over and turned it into a ground-rule double. Lackey had a 3-0 lead, and Anderson had three RBIs in two at-bats. Batista had yielded two-out singles to Orlando Cabrera and Guerrero after hitting Jeff Mathis with a pitch with one out. Anderson had just missed doubling down the left-field line one pitch before turning on Batista's fastball and ripping it. The Mariners threatened in the bottom of the third with singles by Jose Lopez and Ichiro Suzuki, but Lackey got a force on a rundown on dangerous Jose Vidro and retired Jose Guillen on a popup to quell the threat. Scioscia brought out the suicide squeeze for a run in the fourth. Gary Matthews Jr. opened with a leg double, adroitly avoiding a tag at second on Ichiro's throw. Matthews held at third on Kendry Morales' bloop single in front of Ichiro, and, with one out, Mathis dropped a perfect bunt toward the mound with Matthews charging home. "It was a fastball, outer part of the plate, and I was able to get it down," Mathis said. "I wasn't surprised by the sign. That's what we do here." Maicer Izturis' leadoff triple triggered a two-run sixth. He scored on Morales' one-out single. Howie Kendrick doubled Morales to third, and a wild pitch by Batista brought Morales home. The rest of the way, it was Lackey ignoring his ailing throat and pumping strikes to Mathis, whose work behind the plate, calling pitches and blocking them, drew raves from Butcher. "John and Matty," the pitching coach said, "they're really in sync." The Mariners, meanwhile, must have thought the big man was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.