Lackey, Scioscia on AL Division Series

Lackey, Scioscia on AL Division Series

John Lackey has played in some big games – as a football player. Now, he looks to tame the Boston Red Sox offense. Lackey and manager Mike Scioscia spoke with the media about the upcoming series at Fenway.

John, you've developed a reputation as a big-game pitcher. Before your professional career, can you take us back to maybe some big games that you were exposed to as a youngster whether it was high school or even before that.

John Lackey: I really didn't pitch until I became a professional. So I really can't go into that. So probably the biggest games I played before then were high school football games in Texas. And that was probably the biggest thing I've had before I became a pitcher professionally.

Mike Scioscia: No pressure there, right?

John Lackey: No, it was a little crazy (smiling).

Was that against Odessa?

John Lackey: Yeah, they beat us to get in the playoffs my senior year at their place.

Mike Scioscia: You were the other team they made that movie about?

John Lackey: In the movie we beat them, actually.

What position were you?

John Lackey: Quarterback.

Mike, I was wondering if you could talk about Orlando Cabrera. I think a lot of us look at your team offensively, and everybody focuses on Vlad. Could you talk about what Orlando means to that offense.

Mike Scioscia: We had a couple key things happen on the offensive side. We talked about our youngsters coming up and filling in, that really kept us afloat. But the one constant was Orlando. Obviously, Vlad gets most of the attention. The year Orlando Cabrera had was incredible, both in the way he set the table, the number of runs he drove in, number of runs he scored. His situational hitting kept us going, especially at a point where we had a lot of guys that were in and out of our lineup.

And I think Orlando just plays baseball, and I think that bodes well in a playoff environment. To go out there and bring your game on the field, and he's as good as anybody around at being able to do that. And he'll hopefully be big for us this series.

Can you update us on the health of Gary Matthews, and also Vlad. And will you be able to use them in the outfield? And then John, if I may after Mike's, the last time you pitched here, at least on TV, you could be seen expressing something less than love for Fenway Park. Is this not one of your favorite places to pitch?

Mike Scioscia: You want to answer first, John?

John Lackey: I think this time of year doesn't matter where you are. It's the postseason, this is where we want to be. And I'll pitch anywhere this time of year.

Mike Scioscia: We have a couple guys banged up. Like most teams at this part of the season, you're going to have guys that are nicked up. And you have to have the depth and versatility to absorb it. Right now Vlad Guerrero is throwing the ball much better than he has in the last ten days or so. I think he will become an option for right field at some point this series, but tomorrow he will DH.

Gary Matthews is being evaluated now. He's going to go out there and try to see how he feels physically. And our determination will be based on do we think he's at some point early in the series. We have the series a little spread out in the next two or three days. Is he going to be functional enough to go out and play centerfield? If not, then he most likely will not be activated for the series. So we'll have that decision before 10:00 o'clock tomorrow, when our rosters have to be in.

For John, could you tell us what your mindset was when you went out there and took the ball in Game 7 as a rookie in the World Series? And do you draw upon that experience tomorrow night?

John Lackey: I think it's definitely something I can draw upon. Pitched in a few playoff games, that, obviously, being the biggest one. My mindset in that game, I was a rookie, I was coming up with a lot of veterans. I was just hoping to contribute at that point. I wasn't really going to try to do too much. Just try to get the ball to the bullpen, because we had a great bullpen doing a lot of good things that year.

There's been a lot made already about how different stylistically you and the Red Sox are offensively. Can you please offer why you believe in your style of play? And do you believe that your style is conducive to postseason success any more than another?

Mike Scioscia: I believe in the style of play, because the players have to play this way. Especially now because if you have a basketball team and you have twin towers down below that can low post, you're going to get the ball to them and play that style of offense; you're not going to run-and-gun. And if you have a basketball team with guys that are quick and not a lot of height and can really run the court, that's the offense you have to play.

So in our situation, our lineup is not as deep as Boston's. We don't have as much power. We don't hit home runs, you know, at the frequency that a lot of clubs do. But one thing we do is we run the bases extremely well. We're able to push the action offensively with a lot of situational hitting. That is the way these guys have to play, and they do a terrific job of it. It is the only way to play with this group of guys. It's not really an offensive philosophy that I have or our organization has. It's really adjusting to the talent you have and what they need to do to win. And it's the way that we need to play.

Boston's offense is obviously a very patient offense. They have a lot of power. They have probably the best one-two combo in Ortiz and Ramirez going. But then they have opened up their running game a bit more this year because they have the ability to do it. And it's just really a function of what your group of guys can do to be successful and be the most successful. And right now we have to play that style of offense.

As far as the way that your team has performed against Boston, obviously much better out west than you guys have done here. Is there anything about here, the angles, or the size of the park, or the atmosphere that negates some of your weapons or at least, you know, reduces their impact?

Mike Scioscia: Well, they're a tough club. You know, I don't think at times we haven't played well against them. At times it's because we haven't played well. At times it's because they've jumped up and really played well. Our philosophy at the risk of making the guys that follow us every day get sick again is, it really isn't important who you're playing or where you're playing, it's how you're playing the game.

The first series we came in this year, and I don't think it serves much purpose to go back three, four, five, six years, the first series we came in we were a poor baseball club. We were not a good baseball club. We had a terrible first road trip. Came into Boston and those guys just took it to us. The second time around, we were playing much more consistent baseball, doing a lot of the things we need to do on the field. And we held our own in a four-game series and split. So the ability for us to play well in this park is alive and well, and that's what we need to do.

But I don't think it serves much purpose to go back two, three, four, five years ago to say we haven't played well in a particular ballpark. We're going to bring our game on the field, these guys will play and that's what's important.

John, why do you think you've struggled against Boston this season, and what specific things do you think you need to do in this next game?

John Lackey: I mean, really the second start is really the only one of -- those numbers from that second start kind of make the whole thing look bad. But it was just a situation where, you know, they found some holes on me and, you know, got a couple balls that fell in. Then you get a big homer, and that kind of makes you forget about the two balls that just fell in. So I mean, it doesn't much matter.

Tomorrow I don't think they could start with any extra runs tomorrow because of what I've done here in the last two starts. So it doesn't matter. I'll be here tomorrow, and we'll get it on and get it.

It seems safe to say nothing scares you on the mound? At least that's what it looks like. Is that what leads you to being able to perform in big games and step up when it's important?

John Lackey: I don't know about that. I think I've been in enough that I know how to not get -- you can't get too excited about it. You have to do what brought you here. You have to be able to execute pitches. You've got to get beyond all the flyovers and the pregame stuff. Once you get between the lines, you've got to make pitches.

Just to follow-up on what Mike said about the differences in the styles of these ballclubs. What from your perspective as a pitcher puts more pressure on a pitcher to have to face a lineup such as yours, where you have to be almost precise to make sure nobody gets on base, or a lineup such as Boston's where one mistake winds up in the grandstands?

John Lackey: It can be either way. I mean, both ways are obviously successful or we wouldn't be playing each other tomorrow. So I mean, you can go either way. That's the style we play, that's style they play. In a playoff series, most of the time you're going to have good pitchers going against each other. So one run can decide these kind of games. And a homer and manufactured run, they count the same.

Mike, could you comment on your bullpen and where it's gone this season, and how important you think it will be for the season? And John, how much confidence it gives you to know you have guys like K-Rod back there to back you up?

Mike Scioscia: Our bullpen has really taken some different courses during the season. But I think overall they've been terrific. Early on I don't think you could have gotten a better one-two punch closing eighth and the ninth inning than Scotty Shields and Frank Rodriguez from the way they were throwing probably through the first four months of the season. Justin Speier was on the disabled list at that time. When he came back, he gave us the depth that we thought we were going to have all year and we needed it down the stretch. Scotty was out of sync for a little bit, he's fine now. Same with Frankie. And Justin's been as consistent as any reliever in our league.

So the depth is there. If we get leads, it's going to be on these guys to hold them. We have every confidence in any one of those guys that they're going to come in and hold the leads.

What Darren Oliver has done in the second half of the season, I think, has been overlooked by a lot of people, certainly not by us. He's been magnificent and he's a big part of holding some things together when some guys were struggling a bit.

Earlier about an hour ago Josh Beckett came in and was asked about how he's changed as a pitcher since winning the World Series with Florida in 2003 and he talked about his maturity since then. How do you think you've changed as a pitcher in the five years since your World Series championship?

John Lackey: I've changed a lot. I was pretty much a two-pitch pitcher that year. I think I've got more options these days. I've got more things I can go to. If one thing is not working, I've got a few more things in my bag to go to to compensate for if one thing is not working.

I hope I'm not belaboring the point, but your numbers at Fenway and against the Red Sox in your career have not been that good. Is there anything about the lineup of the team or the ballpark? Is there any explanation for that?

John Lackey: They've obviously got a great lineup, a good team. But I'm not going to look too far into that, and I'm certainly going to show up tomorrow and give it a run.

So I think we've got a good team. And if I pitch up to my capabilities, I like my chances against pretty much anybody.

To follow-up on the bullpen question: It used to be that Shields was pretty much an automatic eighth-inning guy for you. Where's your head now in terms of getting the ball to Frankie in that set-up sort of role? Are you going to go back to him in that role or play with match-ups and things like that?

Mike Scioscia: The one thing we have with Scotty is Scotty can really give us multi innings, and you might see him a little earlier depending on the match-ups and the game situation. Doesn't mean he's not going to pitch in the eighth inning. With Justin throwing the ball so well, we can get more creative down there than we maybe were at some points during the season. So I don't think we really have to make a determination of innings right now, more match-ups. It could be where maybe Justin's in a little earlier, and Scotty's in the eighth. It could be where Scotty has the ability to come in and throw 30 to 40 pitches, and get almost like a starter's feel and get us through maybe two-plus innings. He has that ability.

The one thing about the way this series is structured, with the off days in between, it's beautiful to reset your bullpen. And we'll take advantage of that if we need some more length for some of our guys that maybe have the ability to, but you're not really thinking as long-term in a series like this.

Do you think the success of your 2002 team changed how teams utilized their bullpens or influenced how teams utilized their bullpens?

Mike Scioscia: I don't think it was our success. It happened a long time before what we did in 2002. The age of this bullpen now is an age of specialization. Not only with the lefty-righty, but you certainly have guys that are in roles in the middle of the bullpen, and guys that are getting the ball to the closer. It's nothing that we invented. It's just something that we needed to do.

And in '02 with Francisco Rodriguez, I guess blossom wouldn't be the right word. He came on like a rocket. And he was ready for the challenge. Totally changed the scope of our bullpen very quickly both in the Yankee series, we beat in the first round as those games move on, to the Minnesota series and then to the Giants. That was something that was unexpected. It just appeared.

But we didn't do anything in '02 that I don't think any team's been doing for a long time. It's just an age of specialization, and that's the way our bullpen functions.

Just in general, but I believe the situation's probably come up a couple of times, what is it about John that convinces you to leave him out there in a situation where perhaps you might make a change with another pitcher?

Mike Scioscia: Well, if you ask John, that never happens. Anytime he comes out of the game, he's upset. He wants 10 more pitches or 15 more pitches.

This guy's one of the best competitors I've been around in 30-plus years. And I think his ability to slow the game down on the mound has developed from the time he's a rookie to where he is now. He's channelled his emotions into something that's positive out there to get to the next pitch. And I think pitch to pitch he's made more growth than a lot of pitchers with good arms have made, and that's why he's developed into one of the top pitchers in baseball.

He has the ability to make pitches. That's what it's about. Your talent isn't going to play if you're not able to get your pitches into good zones. And John's acquired that ability. To do it, he had the ability to obviously get to the big leagues, but to do it under the most powerful of microscopes, the playoffs, the pennant race, whatever the situation might be.

Going down the stretch, he pitched great for us in the pennant race in '02. Obviously his success in the playoffs in pitching Game 7 of a World Series shows the confidence we have in him. And it's just his ability to go out there and slow the game down mentally and make pitches, and I think all the good pitchers have that ability to do.

Have you decided yet who is going to fill the final couple spots in your bullpen?

Mike Scioscia: We already talked about that, but I'll revisit it for you and the question you asked. That's a running joke we have.

We have decided on our bullpen. We're not so sure about what our position player roster will be. We're going to pare down to ten pitchers. And in our bullpen we will have Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders to start the series, along with Darren Oliver, Justin Speier, Scot Shields and Frankie Rodriguez, with John and Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver starting games one, two and three. I think that's ten, right? That's ten.

So for the first game, and you know, this is if we have the ability if someone should get injured we'll replace them, which is the first time we're going to have that ability. We'll have Dustin Moseley and Chris Bootcheck, who will not be active but ready to fill in if needed.

John, one of your teammates said the reason you're so good is you approach a mid-May start against the Royals the same way you start a playoff game. That seems that it would be impossible given the extra adrenaline and all that. Do you have any type of reminders or mechanisms to slow the game down as Mike said?

John Lackey: I think I do kind of take every start the same. I take a lot of pride in what I do. And when you're a starting pitcher, you only get low 30's of opportunities a year. You don't want to waste any of them. I really cherish those opportunities I have to help my team. So I really don't want to take any of those for granted.

Then when it comes to this time of year, I can approach it the same way, and things tend to workout.

John, talking to Brendan Donnelly earlier, and he said he's known you since Double-A and all. He says he sees a lot of similarities between you and Beckett particularly in your willingness to pitch in big games and on the big stage and all. Do you see those similarities? He is also working on coming back as a left-hander for this series.

John Lackey: I'm sure he would try if he could (smiling).

And Mike for you, Tito was saying earlier today even though you guys are on opposite coasts and different divisions, he feels like the two clubs know each other very well. I wonder if you feel the same?

John Lackey: Donkey's crazy. I'm not sure what else he probably said to you behind the scenes. That's my boy. He's a great guy. But I definitely respect Josh Beckett as a pitcher. He's been in these big games just like I have and done extremely well. I mean, throwing a shutout to win a World Series, it doesn't get much better than that. He's obviously got great stuff and it's going to be a great challenge for us. I'm going to have to pitch well to give our guys a chance.

Mike Scioscia: As far as knowing each team well, because of the quirkiness of the schedule, we played them ten times. Which is the most that we've played out of any team outside of our division. So there's an in-house scouting familiarity we have with them as they do with us. I think that our team has taken on kind of different forms as the season has moved on, so they probably have a little more to catch up with.

As far as what their lineup is, they know what they want to do and it's a matter of us trying to get pitches in a good zone to stop them from doing what they can do. So I don't know if there's a lot of things that are going to surprise each other as far as what's going to happen on the field. And we have played each other a lot for teams that are on other coasts and in different divisions.

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