ARLINGTON -- The score was the same, but the lasting impression was not. The Angels seemed to coast to a 7-3 win over the Rangers on Saturday. But Sunday afternoon, the Angels were dominant in their 7-3 victory. John Lackey set the tone for that domination, and his club will depend on him to set the tone when the playoffs get under way. "John's having a terrific year," manager Mike Scioscia said. "After missing the first month or so, to put together a season like he has, has given us a lift."
The nuts and bolts of Lackey's outing Sunday included 3 2/3 perfect innings and 4 1/3 hitless frames to begin the game, a career-high 12 strikeouts and seven straight strikeouts, one shy of tying the American League record. "That was good to see," Scioscia said. "John did a great job. The only negative was his pitch count was up. Striking out a lot of batters certainly increased his total. I'm sure he would have liked to turn some of those strikeouts into groundouts or flyouts." Nolan Ryan was the only Angels hurler to strike out eight straight hitters, doing it twice, while three other AL pitchers have done it once. While his streak was ongoing, Lackey had no idea of the company he was approaching. "You never know how many you have," Lackey said. "You just know things are going good and you try to keep it going." In fact, Lackey's main objective Sunday simply was to come out of his start healthy. "Just feeling good would have been enough for me," Lackey said. "I had probably my best breaking ball all year going for me." That breaking ball was evident, even to Halos second baseman Sean Rodriguez, who hit his third home run of the season in the sixth inning. "Oh my god -- sick," Rodriguez said. "That's the only word I can use to describe it. He threw [his breaking ball] for strikes when he wanted to. He threw it down in the zone when he wanted to." Lackey's display of command was especially encouraging considering the poor run of starts he'd had as of late. Sunday was his first victory since Aug. 26, and in his three starts prior to Sunday, he was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. "John has a good arm," Scioscia said. "He'll get a strikeout when the opportunity arises. Today, with his command, he got ahead a lot and even came back a couple times. The key was pounding early and putting them away." Marlon Byrd, who went 0-for-3 against Lackey and was the last batter Lackey faced, concurred. "He was unbelievable," Byrd said. "He missed his spot once with me, and he was not missing his slider with anybody. I don't know if he's starting to get revved up for the playoffs, but he looked great out there." The Angels, as a team, are getting pretty revved up for the playoffs. Sunday's victory put them a season-high 37 games over the .500 mark and moved them to 21 1/2 games up in the American League West standings. But those numbers won't mean much if the Angels fizzle in the postseason. That's why Lackey isn't likely to go as deep into his next start, which will be his last of the regular season. He threw 110 pitches Sunday, but neither he nor Scioscia expect to see a similar pitch count on Friday. "I'm pretty sure it won't be a full start," Lackey said. "They might back me off a bit. I think, honestly, my bullpen sessions will be more important [this last week]. I can work on stuff there, so my command feels good. Obviously I'm going to try in my start." Said Scioscia: "We might peel him back a bit, but you want him feeling good going into the playoffs." Another key player on the Angels roster, Chone Figgins, appears to be on the right track to being at full strength going into the playoffs. Figgins started on Sunday for the first time since Tuesday, and he was only taken out as Scioscia made a handful of substitutions. Figgins has been battling a deep contusion of the triceps tendon in his right elbow, which has affected his ability to throw. "It's still got some little soreness in there," Figgins said. "I'm able to let it loose. That's a good thing. If I let it go, I'm not going to tear anything. I just want to get some ground balls." Figgins said he could feel his swing coming around as the game progressed, which was evident in his last at-bat, when he recorded his only hit with a single. Now that he's back, he has no plans of taking any more time off. "Oh, yeah, I'm in there from now on," Figgins said.
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.