Lackey lifts Angels to win over A's

Lackey lifts Angels to win over A's

OAKLAND -- They played an old-school game of hardball at McAfee Coliseum, from another time. John Lackey and Joe Blanton threw strikes and kept it moving, just as Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson once did.

When it was over, a tidy two hours and 13 minutes from first to last pitch, the Angels were savoring a 3-1 victory over the A's that stretched their American League West lead to 4 1/2 games over Oakland.

It was the sixth win in a row for the Angels, whose 20-11 road record is by far the best in the Major Leagues.

"Blanton's a good pitcher," Lackey said, having gone seven near-flawless innings before turning it over to the finishing firm of Jose Arredondo and Francisco Rodriguez. "He's a guy who really goes after hitters, challenging guys. You know you have to pitch well against a guy like that."

Blanton, falling to 3-8, deserved a better fate. The big right-hander surrendered a leadoff homer to Maicer Izturis, the shortstop's second of the year, an unearned run in the third on Vladimir Guerrero's single and a run in the seventh on a Gary Matthews Jr. double and Jeff Mathis single.

Blanton was good, but Lackey was better.

In his fifth start of the season after missing six weeks with a strained triceps, Lackey flexed and found whatever he needed for the occasion. He yielded four hits and walked none, striking out five, and he was fooled only once.

With Jack Cust, a hitter with extravagant patience, leading off the seventh, Lackey put a first-pitch fastball in a spot Cust liked -- and he sent it rocketing over the wall in right-center for his 10th homer of the season.

That was the sum total of the A's offense.

"A guy who usually doesn't swing at the first pitch swung at the first pitch," Lackey said, grinning.

Izturis swung at the third pitch he saw, lifting it to the same general location to open the game.

"I was just trying to hit the ball hard," he said, having watched video of Blanton before the game even though he came into the game hitting .440 against him with a homer in 25 at-bats.

Lackey is 13-3 against the A's in his career with a 2.77 ERA in 152 2/3 innings, across 24 starts. That's almost the equivalent of a full season against Oakland, and the big Texan clearly makes himself right at home in the East Bay, where he's 7-2.

"I enjoy pitching here," Lackey said. "I've been going at it with these guys for a number of years."

After a first-inning single by Bobby Crosby, Lackey set down 15 hitters in a row. That ended when Kurt Suzuki doubled with one out in the sixth, but Lackey kept him right there, retiring Jack Hannahan on a grounder and striking out Crosby.

In the wake of Cust's homer, Daric Barton slammed a two-out double but Travis Buck went down swinging on Lackey's 100th, and final, pitch.

The A's were as impressed with Lackey's toughness as much as with his low-90s fastball and crackling curve.

"He always pitches good against us," second baseman Mark Ellis said. "His stuff, it's about average. There [are] guys with better stuff. But he really knows how to pitch. When he's on, he's as good as there is in the league."

"He's one of the better pitchers in the league, for sure, and he pitched like it tonight," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He had pretty much pinpoint control of everything."

Blanton didn't have to face Lackey, and he seemed grateful.

"It looked like he was throwing darts," Blanton said.

Lackey was third in the AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2007 and led the league in ERA. With his late start, he's busy trying to catch up.

"I've been out a month and a half, and I really have to help the team as much as I can," Lackey said. "I have limited opportunities."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is thrilled to have his ace back in prime-time form.

"Joe Blanton pitched a terrific game -- he's always tough on us," Scioscia said. "John Lackey matched him pitch for pitch. John's really finding his groove as he comes off the disabled list. He's rebounding with every start."

The manager also was pleased to see Guerrero return after missing three games with a hyperextended right knee, driving the ball to right for his RBI single in the third and through the middle for another single in the sixth.

"He got us a big run," Scioscia said. "It's good to get him in the middle of the lineup. Our offense is still not where it needs to be ... at some point that has to improve. We've been pitching great baseball and catching the ball, but we can't keep putting our pitchers in this position."

Arredondo yielded a two-out single after a superb play at third by Brandon Wood and retired Crosby on a force to get the ball to Rodriguez, who blew through the A's in yet another perfect ninth inning.

That's 22 saves in a row for K-Rod, matching a career best spread over two seasons, and he's 25 for 26 in save situations, leading the Majors. The Angels are 28-1 when he goes to the mound.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.