The game turned into a pitchers' duel between Lackey and Nationals starter Jason Bergmann, and it lasted just two hours and 12 minutes. Lackey wound up nabbing his fifth victory by pitching eight innings and allowing one earned run.
"I think John pitched terrific baseball -- eight terrific innings that we certainly needed," manager Mike Scioscia said.
According to Scioscia, Lackey performed well, "pitching with his back against the wall all game," because it was so close.
Lackey, third in last year's American League Cy Young Award balloting, surrendered a third-inning home run to Willie Harris. The starter found more trouble in the fifth, when he walked catcher Jesus Flores to load the bases. But Lackey threw two quick strikes to Ronnie Belliard, then got the third baseman to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
After the game, Nationals manager Manny Acta praised Lackey.
"He was tough as usual," Acta said. "That's why he has an ERA below 2.00. We had a chance to get a hit and pull away, but we couldn't get that hit with the bases loaded."
Conversely, the Angels got on the board playing small ball in the fifth. Casey Kotchman led off the inning with a single, moved to third on a Howie Kendrick double and scored on a sacrifice fly to left-center field by Jeff Mathis.
Harris provided more fireworks in the seventh, hitting a triple to right-center field -- also where he deposited his home run earlier. He scored one batter later when, after spearing pinch-hitter Paul Lo Duca's line drive, Lackey tried to catch Harris leaning off third. The pitcher's off-balance throw skipped past Chone Figgins and Harris came in to score.
But what goes around, comes around, and it did so quickly for the Angels. In the top of the eighth, Figgins reached on a bunt single. Jesus Flores' tried to catch Figgins stealing, but his throw went into center field, allowing the Los Angeles leadoff man to take third base with a smile.
After the game, Scioscia defended his starter for trying to make a big play in a tough situation, something the manager said he will never be mad at a player for trying to do.
"The play was a little aggressive, but it was worth a shot," said Scioscia.
Lackey was rather harder on himself after the game, saying that his manager was "probably making it look a little bit better than it was." Lackey praised his teammates for turning around and getting the lead right back.
"I was pretty upset with myself," Lackey said. "The boys did a good job of getting a couple of runs right after that. That was definitely a momentum swing."
In the at-bat after Lackey's miscue, Felipe Lopez booted Erick Aybar's grounder and Figgins scored easily.
Aybar got aggressive on the play, taking second as the ball skipped past Lopez into right field. That quick thinking proved vital when Garret Anderson stepped up to bat next, as the veteran left fielder roped a single into right-center field to score Aybar.
After the game, Figgins said he went up thinking bunt after he "hit a couple balls hard." As for Aybar's heady, hard-charging play that set up the game-winning run, Figgins said he wasn't the least bit surprised.
"Yeah, I was expecting him to do that," Figgins said. "He's aggressive like that. He hustled to get to second, which is a good play. That's something that we do a lot is be aggressive on the basepaths, and once again, we got another big hit from Garret."
Zachary Osterman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.