John Lackey is pitching so well even Ichiro Suzuki didn’t stand a chance.
Lackey tossed a five-hitter for his first complete game of the season, Torii Hunter hit a tiebreaking two-run homer and the Los Angeles Angels beat the Seattle Mariners 3-0 on Thursday night to finish a three-game sweep.
Lackey (10-7) struck out seven and walked one, finishing in 115 pitches to help the Angels increase their AL West lead to five games over idle Texas. Los Angeles also moved a season-best 29 games over .500.
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Suzuki was 0 for 4 and still needs four hits to reach the 200 mark for the ninth consecutive season, which would break the major league mark he shares with Willie Keeler. He was 1 for 14 in the series with three strikeouts.
Suzuki has 26 career hits against Lackey, tied with Kevin Millwood and Barry Zito for his most off a single pitcher. But he struck out against Lackey in his first two times up, both on pitches in the dirt.
“He’s a great hitter, so you’ve got to show him a lot of different things,” Lackey said. “You can expand the zone a little bit on him, for sure. He likes to swing and he doesn’t take a lot of walks, so there’s ways around it.”
Suzuki has struck out three times only once in his last 432 games with at least three official at-bats. The only blemish during that stretch was at Anaheim on Sept. 23, 2007 – when Lackey fanned him twice and Scot Shields got him once.
“You don’t see Ichiro striking out twice like that,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. “But you tip your cap to Lackey. He’s done it for a number of years now. His velocity was up from last time and he had a great feel for his curveball, as evidenced with Ichiro.”
Four of Lackey’s eight career shutouts have come against the Mariners, including the last three. His previous one was on Aug. 27, 2007, at Seattle. The complete game was his 14th in 229 career starts and first since Aug. 26, 2008, against Oakland. The right-hander has allowed one earned run in 26 innings over his last three starts.
“The best way to stay on a roll is not to analyze this one too much and get ready for the next one,” Lackey said. “It’s not going to matter much in Boston when I show up in five days. You’ve just got to keep going.”
Ryan Rowland-Smith (3-2) gave up three runs and 10 hits in seven innings. The 26-year-old left-hander came within three outs of becoming the first Mariners pitcher to go at least eight innings in three consecutive starts since Felix Hernandez in August 2005.
In Rowland-Smith’s last four starts, opposing starters have allowed one run over 32 innings.
Rowland-Smith worked with runners on base in every inning except the second, inducing double-play grounders by Bobby Abreu his first two times up. But after the second one, Vladimir Guerrero singled and Hunter hit a towering home run into the rock pile in left-center on a 2-1 pitch.
Erick Aybar added a two-out RBI double in the seventh.
“This game and this series meant just as much to us as it did to them,” Wakamatsu said after the Mariners went 0 for 18 in the three games with runners in scoring position. “We came into this series trying to gain some ground. The first game kind of set the tone for everything – losing in extra innings.”
No pitcher has struck out Suzuki three times in the same game since Boston’s Josh Beckett did it on April 10, 2007, at Fenway Park. … The Mariners have an AL-best 4.00 ERA, and are trying to finish first in that category for the first time since 2001, when they won their last division title with a 116-46 record under Lou Piniella and finished with a 3.54 ERA. … The Angels have swept nine series of three or more games – two more than last year, when they swept Seattle in a three-game set and a four-game set. The Mariners have been swept four times this season in series of three or more games. … Angels starting pitchers have allowed fewer than three earned runs in 13 of the team’s last 15 games.