Lackey pitches Angels past Rangers

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels look like they’re primed for a deep playoff run.

Lackey gave up two hits and struck out a career-high 12 in six shutout innings, Mark Teixeira and Sean Rodriguez homered, and the Angels completed a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers with a 7-3 victory Sunday.

Lackey (12-4) walked three and allowed only two runners to reach third as the AL West champs continued their playoff tuneup.

“I feel pretty confident,” Lackey said. “When you go out there that way it helps.”

In one stretch from the first through the third innings, Lackey struck out seven in a row and fanned nine in the first four innings.

A native of Abilene, Texas, Lackey struggled in his previous road start against the Rangers on July 10. Lackey gave up six runs and 15 hits in 5 2-3 innings of a game that the Angels rallied to win in 11 innings, 11-10.

Lackey had lost his previous two decisions and had a 6.75 ERA in his last three starts.

This time, he was able to get ahead of hitters with all his pitches.

“I had command with different pitches so they couldn’t look for one thing,” Lackey said. “That was probably the best breaking ball I’ve had all year.”

Lackey didn’t allow a hit over the first 4 1-3 innings until Hank Blalock doubled.

“That was post-season John Lackey,” Texas’ Marlon Byrd said. “He was in and out, stayed down, didn’t get up in the zone. They’ve got great pitching. We got swept. We got beat by a better team.”

Lackey’s final regular-season start is Friday night at home against Texas, putting him on schedule to open the playoffs.

“We’ve got some things to look at next week.” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll announce our rotation later. Today was good. It got him stretched out. We might peel him back a little bit in his next start, but we want to get the guys feeling good going into the playoffs.”

The Angels (96-59) have already been assured home field advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.

Los Angeles, which also has the best record in the majors, has a 3 1/2 game advantage over AL East leader Tampa Bay in pursuit of the league’s best mark and home field throughout the playoffs.

The Angels hold a 21 1/2 game lead over the second-place Rangers, who lost their fourth straight. Los Angeles is attempting to become the first AL team since Cleveland in 1999 to take a division by 20 games over its nearest pursuer.

“I’ve never seen that before, (the gap) between the first- and second-place teams,” Byrd said. “They’ve got the confidence and the swagger.”

Jose Arredondo pitched two scoreless innings before Jason Bulger yielded a three-run homer to Blalock in the ninth to make it 7-3.

Rangers starter Scott Feldman (5-8), who allowed six runs and eight hits in six innings, nominated the Angels as the AL’s most impressive team.

“They’re going to be hard to beat,” Feldman said. “They’ve got speed, power, great defense, great pitching, great bullpen. I’d say they’re the most complete team that I’ve seen.”

Teixeira’s two-run shot in the first was his 12th for the Angels and 33rd of the season. Teixeira played for the Rangers in 2003-07.

Garret Anderson’s RBI single in the fifth stretched the Angels’ lead to 3-0, and Rodriguez’s three-run shot in the sixth made it 6-0.

Vladimir Guerrero’s RBI double in the seventh extended Los Angeles’ advantage to 7-0.

Notes

3B Chone Figgins (right elbow injury) returned for the Angels, leading off after missing 11 games. He went 1-for-4. … Rangers SS Michael Young sat out his second straight start due to a broken finger on his right hand. Young has missed all or parts of the last four games. …Texas INF Ramon Vazquez was still angry on Sunday after being ejected from Saturday night’s game by home plate umpire Tom Hallion. Vazquez was tossed for arguing a called third strike by Hallion on teammate German Duran. Vazquez, who=2 0sprinted onto the field and had to be physically restrained by manager Ron Washington and teammate Milton Bradley from going after Hallion, contended that some umpires have a wider strike zone for young players than for veterans. “I look at the video,” Vazquez said. “I see what they’re calling as strikes. When (Angels veterans) get up there, they’re balls. But when young guys get up there, they’re strikes. Pitches six, seven inches outside the plate (are strikes), that’s not fair. I said, ‘Those pitches are too far outside, clean it up.’ And he tossed me.” … Lackey’s previous high for strikeouts was 11 on two occasions. …Texas has 358 doubles, breaking the 2006 club record and fifth-highest total in major league history.

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