Monday, August 31, 2009

(AP Photo)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

There’s something magical about the number 100. It’s not that it has an extra digit compared to 99. It’s that it signifies a major accomplishment. If you’re lucky enough to reach age 99, you’ll be noted as such. But, if you live to 100 then you’re a centenarian.

On Sunday, John Lackey joined the 100-win club for the Angels. He’s only 1 of 5 players to accomplish that feat in our 47+ years of history. The other members are Chuck Finley (165), Nolan Ryan (138), Mike Witt (109), and Frank Tanana (102).

Additionally, with 6 strikeouts in the game, John Lackey now has 1155 in his career as an Angel. That places him 5th overall in Angels’ all-time strikeout leaders again only trailing Nolan Ryan (2416), Chuck Finley (2151), Mike Witt (1283), and Frank Tanana (1233).

If we can define the 21st century as the modern era of Angels’ baseball—an era with regular post-season berths and dominant pitching, then John Lackey is the foundation for the modern team. In every season since his rookie year, Lackey has won at least 10 games. He has a career .588 winning percentage as a starter, and has averaged over 7 Ks per 9 IP. For his career, he has held the opposition to a .721 OPS—well below the league average.

Still, what makes John Lackey the symbol of the modern era in Angels’ baseball is his performance in 2002. Not only did his 9 regular season wins feature prominently in our race for the Wild Card, without him, we might not have our first (and only) World Series trophy.

Pitching on just 3 days rest, John Lackey, a 24-year old rookie took the mound to start Game 7 of the World Series. History was not on his side. No rookie had started and won a Game 7 of the World Series in the 93 years prior to him. Many pundits thought that the decision to start Lackey would be the downfall for the Angels.

Instead, Lackey held the Giants to just 1 run over 5 innings in what was the highest scoring World Series in history. He scattered 4 hits and struck out four in that start and held the mighty Barry Bonds homerless. These were no small feats.

In winning Game 7, Lackey utterly changed the destiny of our franchise. We went from drawing 2.3 million fans in 2002 to drawing over 3 million the following year and every year since. We went from being at-risk of being contracted, to one of the “big-market” teams. Add in Arte Moreno, Vlad, Hunter, Figgins, and all the rest, and you have the modern team. But, take away Lackey and Game 7, and who knows what you would have.

With approximately 5 more starts left this year, Lackey has a shot at passing Frank Tanana for 4th place on the all-time wins list for the Angels. And, with a 5-game lead in the AL West, Lackey is in line to make his 6th post season appearance as an Angel—more appearances than Ryan, Finley, Witt and Tanana combined.

Congratulations John on winning your 100th game. It’s been a pleasure to watch you develop and mature as a pitcher and become the ace of our staff.
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