DETROIT — One of the reasons the Red Sox signed John Lackey to a five-year contract before the 2010 season was his experience in the postseason.
Lackey started 12 postseason games for the Los Angeles Angels from 2002-09, four of them in the American League Championship Series. The Angels were October regulars and Lackey was always near the top of their rotation.
“He was a big-game pitcher,” said Torii Hunter, Lackey’s teammate with the Angels for two seasons and now a member of the Detroit Tigers. “Lackey was one of those guys you knew was going to keep you in the game. They loved him with the Angels.”
Lackey and Hunter shared a hug at Fenway Park Friday. They’ll be opponents Tuesday in Game 3 of the ALCS at Comerica Park. The Red Sox and Tigers split the first two games of the best-of-seven series, the Sox completing a dramatic rally to win, 6-5, Sunday night.
The Red Sox stayed in Boston after the game and flew here late Monday morning. A workout at Comerica Park followed.
Lackey, like most everybody else associated with the team, was still marveling at the comeback fueled by David Ortiz’s grand slam in the eighth inning.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Lackey. “It was great. Guys kept fighting to the end. To win that game was huge for us, obviously. Coming over here down two games would have been tough.”
Now Lackey gets his chance to have an impact on the series. A big game on a brisk October day is one of his specialties. No Red Sox pitcher has more experience in the playoffs than Lackey. It started as a 23-year-old rookie in 2002 when he won twice in the playoffs, including Game 7 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
“I obviously have a lot of memories about it. It was fun,” Lackey said. “I was just kind of a young guy trying to help out a group of veterans that year, staying out of the way, being quiet and doing my job.
“I’ve done it a few more times since then and been a little bit more involved as someone on the team more as the leader of the pitching staff.”
Lackey started Game 2 of the Division Series against Tampa Bay and allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks over 5⅓ innings. He picked up the win but admitted it was not a sharp performance.
Lackey started that game after a 10-day break and it showed in his lack of command.
“I think the time off kind of got me a little bit as far as the touch and feel of pitches and stuff,” Lackey said. “My arm felt good as far as health-wise. But just the feel wasn’t quite as good as it had been in previous starts.”
The Red Sox tried to avert that by having Lackey throw two innings against a handful of teammates Friday afternoon. The 30-pitch session broke up what will be a nine-day break between starts this time.
Lackey faced the Tigers twice this season, allowing five runs over 14⅓ innings. He is 6-3 with a 3.86 earned run average in 12 career starts against Detroit, 4-1 with a 3.83 ERA in six starts at Comerica Park.
Lackey will be facing Justin Verlander, who threw 15 scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series. Going back to the regular season, Verlander is riding a streak of 28 scoreless innings.
For Lackey, part of being experienced is the knowledge there’s not much he can do about the opposing starter.
“He’s a great pitcher,” said Lackey. “But you pitch this time of the year, you’re not going to go against anybody that’s not pretty good.
“We’ve got a great lineup. I’m going into the game with a great group of guys behind me. Those guys are going to fight him. He’s kind of our lineup’s problem. I’ve got my own problems with their lineup.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he planned to use a similar lineup to Game 1, meaning David Ross would catch. In his two starts throwing to Ross this season, Lackey allowed three earned runs over 11⅓ innings.
“He’s a stud pitcher,” said Ross. “He’s been a horse and he’s been a No. 1 and that’s hard to say. We expect him to perform well.”
Ross started two games against the Tigers during the regular season and again in Game 1. He believes his familiarity with their lineup is important.
“They have a deep lineup,” he said. “It helps the more you get to know guys.”
Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, who homered Sunday, is 4 for 12 in his career against Lackey. An enterprising reporter asked Lackey how he planned to pitch Cabrera.
“I’d be kind of dumb to tell you how I’m going to do that right now,” he said. “He’s like David. There’s not one way I can go about it. I’m going to have to make a lot of good pitches in a lot of different spots. He’s really good.
“They’re good; it’s a deep lineup. One through nine, you’ve got to make pitches. They wouldn’t be playing at this point in the season if they’re not pretty good.”