- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. | Down to their last gasp in the American League Championship Series, there’s no one the Los Angeles Angels would rather entrust their playoff lives to than John Lackey.

The veteran right-hander will get the ball for a do-or-die Game 5 against the New York Yankees on Thursday night, on the eve of his 31st birthday, hoping to duplicate past heroics and force this series back to the East Coast.

“He’s our ace for a reason,” third baseman Chone Figgins said. “If we’re going to go down, at least we’ve got him on the mound to go down with.”

As a 24-year-old rookie in 2002, he went 2-0 in the postseason and won Game 7 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants with five innings of one-run ball.

He has gone on to win 102 games for the Angels over the past eight seasons, establishing himself as the go-to guy at the top of their rotation while maturing as a pitcher.

“I mean, then I was just trying to help out the older guys and not mess it up, you know?” he said of his 2002 World Series experience. “Now I’m kind of one of those older guys that needs to step up and needs to help lead this team to another game. It’s definitely a different feeling for sure.”

In Game 1, Lackey held the Yankees to two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, but the Angels fell 4-1. A pending free agent, Lackey could be making his final start for the Angels on Thursday night. Though he is said to prefer staying in Southern California, Los Angeles’ front office isn’t believed to be willing to fork over the kind of money Lackey is expected to receive from other clubs.

Manuel’s faith rewarded

All season, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel stood by closer Brad Lidge as he served up homers, blew saves and shrank from the outsized reputation he had built the year before, when he went 48-for-48 in save situations and helped the Phillies to a World Series title.

In the 2009 regular season, Lidge went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA, gave up 11 homers in 58 2/3 innings.

But Manuel kept going back to Lidge. And through two series of the 2009 playoffs, Lidge has rewarded Manuel’s faith in him.

Lidge went 3-for-3 in save situations along with a win he earned Monday night, when the Phillies rallied in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers after Lidge held them scoreless. He has a 0.00 ERA this postseason, has walked three batters and given up just one hit.

“Once the postseason rolls around, I think there’s kind of a different level of focus, and fortunately for me so far it’s worked out pretty good to where I feel pretty locked in,” Lidge said Monday.

And Manuel, who was peppered with questions all season about how much patience he could have with Lidge, can call for his closer in the ninth inning again without second-guessing it.

“He’s having fun again,” Manuel said. “I think when I bring him in the game now and I talk to him, you can tell that he’s ready to go. I think that he’s very capable of doing the job; I always have. He has a lot of talent.”

• Ben Goessling reported from Philadelphia.

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