The two-time defending AL West champions needed a well-pitched game after Sunday's nine-run loss to the New York Yankees. And they got one Monday night from Lackey, who held the Texas Rangers to four hits over seven innings of a 5-2 victory.
"He's just been a big-time pitcher for us," center fielder Darin Erstad said. "He just has something inside him where he rises to the occasion, and you can't teach that. It's hard to put your finger on what it is, but I like it."
Lackey (1-1) shrugged off a two-run homer by cleanup batter Phil Nevin in the first inning and retired 12 of his last 13 batters. He struck out eight and walked one. The lanky right-hander, who was born in Abilene, Texas, and makes his offseason home in Dallas, is 6-6 against the Rangers with a 5.15 ERA.
"They've got a lot of guys over there who can swing the bats, and it's definitely a challenge every time you face them," Lackey said. "But I was able to command pretty much all four of my pitches and I was hitting spots."
Texas shortstop Michael Young, last year's AL batting champ, didn't hit a ball out of the infield in three at-bats against Lackey, who recorded five of his 14 wins last season after Angels defeats.
"He was throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead of us," Young said. "We haven't been swinging the bat like we're capable of the last few games, and he capitalized. He was finishing us off with fastballs, breaking balls, pretty much everything in the strike zone."
Lackey escaped a jam in the fourth by striking out Kevin Mench with a runner at third. Mench, who stranded another teammate at second base in the ninth, hasn't driven in a run in his first 31 at-bats this season. Last year, he had 73 RBI in 150 games -- including five on June 30 against the Angels, when he homered three times.
"Kevin will be fine. He's going to have a big year," Young said. "He's a good hitter. It's just a matter of getting him hot, and sometimes it takes a little longer than you'd like."
Mench isn't the only Rangers batter who is struggling. Laynce Nix went 0-for-3 and is hitless in his first 18 at-bats. Leadoff hitter Brad Wilkerson has struck out 16 times in 36 at-bats this season -- including his first two times up against Lackey. He fanned an average of 153.7 times over the previous four seasons with the Montreal/Washington franchise.
"We have a good group of offensive players and talented guys, so it's just a matter of us getting on the right track," Young said. "Hitting is contagious. Anyone will tell you that, so it's just a matter of everyone getting on the same page, and then we should be able to turn it up a notch at that point."
Chone Figgins drove in the tying run in the second with a triple to right field over Mench's outstretched glove after a walk to Jose Molina. Orlando Cabrera followed with a bloop single against Kameron Loe (0-2), putting Angels ahead to stay.
Cabrera then stole second and scored when Vladimir Guerrero reached out for a pitch about a foot off the ground and looped a single into right-center. Guerrero was 2-for-4 and has hit safely in all 37 career games against Texas, the longest streak by a player against one team since divisional play began in 1969. The six-time All-Star is hitting .438 lifetime against the Rangers with 13 homers and 30 RBI.
"That guy can hit anything," Lackey said. "When he hits the ball hard, it's homers, and when you make (tough) pitches on him, it's broken-bat singles. I mean, he can do everything."
Loe, who has a 7-foot boa constrictor named "Angel," was charged with five runs and nine hits in five innings. Last September, the right-hander was forced out of a start against the Angels when a line drive by Guerrero struck him in the head and caromed to Young for the out.
- The Angels won the season series last year 15-4. They have beaten the Rangers seven consecutive times, 12 in the last 14 meetings, and eight straight at Anaheim.
- Nix had only 19 hits in his final 102 at-bats last year, and his longest hitless drought of 2005 was 16 at-bats.