Lackey will pitch in Angel Stadium on Tuesday night for the first time since bolting from his only major league team to sign a big-money deal with the Boston Red Sox.
On Monday night, he had the usual problem faced by a new visitor in a familiar park: locating the visitors’ clubhouse. Once he found it, Lackey betrayed few strong emotions about his return to Orange County, where he grew into an elite starter worthy of a five-year, $82.5 million deal from one of baseball’s two biggest spenders.
“I had a lot of good years here and lot of fun here, and I really enjoyed playing here,” Lackey said. “I won a lot of games in this stadium, so it’ll be comfortable once I get out there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. We’ll find out.”
“Weave and I have a lot of mutual respect, so it’s going to be fun going up against each other,” Lackey said. “We’ll probably have something on it, for sure. He’s having a great year, so I’m going to have to pitch well.”
Lackey started his major league career with a banner achievement as a rookie, winning Game 7 of the Angels’ only World Series triumph in 2002. He evolved into a durable starter for the club, making at least 24 starts in each of his seven full seasons with the Angels (52-50) while winning 102 games.
“I hope it’s a good reception,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “John pitched some incredible baseball here for a lot of years. It’s always strange when you’ve seen a guy in one uniform for a long time, and now he’s wearing different colors.”
After a strong playoff performance that included a dominant win over Boston (56-44) last fall, Lackey was the top starter available in free agency. He was noticeably lacking in sentiment about the Angels when asked about his future, leading many fans to assume he would leave for the type of contract Los Angeles wouldn’t match - and that’s exactly what happened.
“(Leaving the Angels) was just one of those things, and that’s the way the game is these days,” Lackey said. “There were only a certain amount of places that I would have considered leaving for, and this was one of them. It’s been great. It’s been a really easy transition. The guys in the clubhouse have made it easy. It’s a good group of guys, so it was easy to fit in.”
Lackey is 9-5 with a 4.36 ERA with the Red Sox, starting slowly but rounding into form. He has been durable after arm strains affected his past two seasons with Los Angeles, pitching into the seventh inning 14 times in 20 starts for Boston.
He even took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his most recent start in Seattle last week before it collapsed.
Lackey still has several friends in the Angels’ clubhouse, and he expressed surprise at the Angels’ trade of longtime starter Joe Saunders(notes) for Arizona’s Dan Haren(notes), who was expected to make his Los Angeles debut Monday night. The Angel Stadium crowd was bigger and livelier than usual for batting practice, although that’s usually case with Boston’s extensive fan base.
Although both the Red Sox and the Angels will need second-half surges to get into the postseason, Lackey appears quite comfortable with his choice of baseball-crazy Boston over laid-back Orange County. When asked to compare the crowds in his former home to Fenway Park, Lackey grinned.
“It’s a little different,” he said. “Everything is just amped up several degrees.”