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Pitching in MLB playoffs no sweat for Lackey, Beckett

Pitching in MLB playoffs no sweat for Lackey, Beckett
In a postseason full of new faces, Josh Beckett and John Lackey have something critical in common: They’ve been through this before.

Leading contenders for the AL Cy Young Award, the two will square off in a playoff opener tonight when Beckett and the Boston Red Sox host Lackey’s Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park.

Don’t expect either one to crumble under the pressure.

Beckett was the World Series MVP for Florida in 2003 after pitching a shutout at Yankee Stadium on three days’ rest to clinch the title.

Lackey was a rookie when he won Game 7 of the 2002 Series for the Angels.

“He’s been in these big games just like I have, and done extremely well,” Lackey said. “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.”

Matt Holliday and the streaking Rockies get their unexpected chance this
afternoon in Philadelphia, where the NL East champions host Colorado in the first playoff game for the Fightin’ Phils since 1993.

The final game of the day is a desert duel between aces out in Arizona, where sinkerball specialist Brandon Webb faces Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs.

“I don’t want to be pumped up,” said Zambrano, prone to emotional outbursts. “I just want to be calm and let the moment come, let the game come and pitch my game. I don’t want to be too excited.”

Going into Game 1, both right-handers are on a roll. Webb (18-10) is 10-2 since the All-Star break, while Zambrano (18-13) didn’t allow a run in his last two outings.

Arizona won the season series 4-2 but never faced Zambrano. It could be an eye-opener for the youngsters Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin will have in his lineup.

“We don’t have a lot of postseason experience,” Melvin said. “We’ll see how that plays out. Our guys are pretty excitable. They like to go out there and play.”

The other best-of-five series starts Thursday night when the wild-card New York Yankees are in Cleveland to face C.C. Sabathia and the Indians. All eyes will be on Alex Rodriguez to see if he can put an end to his playoff failures after a huge regular season.

“Don’t ask him about it,” teammate Derek Jeter told the media mob at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. “Just leave him alone and let him play.”

The young Rockies came from way off the pace, going 14-1 down the stretch and rallying against career saves leader Trevor Hoffman in the bottom of the 13th inning to beat San Diego 9-8 late Monday night in a wild-card tiebreaker.

Many who stayed awake long enough to see it are still wondering if Holliday ever touched home plate on that headfirst dive for the winning run. No matter, the call was safe.

Now, a team known as Todd Helton and the Toddlers not long ago is all grown up and on the big stage.

And their matchup with the Phillies could be an all-out slugfest.

The two highest-scoring teams in the National League will be taking their hacks in two of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball: Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and Coors Field in Colorado.

Home run totals have decreased significantly at Coors over the past decade — several years ago, the Rockies installed a humidor to keep baseballs from drying out and becoming too lively off the bat. Still, it remains the best park to hit in.

“It’s changed,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said. “The elevation is not going to change, but the ballpark is not as much hitter-friendly as it used to be. It plays out much different than it has in the past.”

Still, pitchers should beware.

Especially Jeff Francis, Colorado’s top starter. The 17-game winner was tattooed in two starts against the Phillies this year, going 0-1 with a 15.12 ERA.

He allowed 14 earned runs, 20 hits and five walks in 81/3 innings.

He’ll pitch the opener against fellow lefty Cole Hamels. The series also pits two of the top candidates for NL MVP: Holliday and Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

“If you worry about the fences instead of getting people out, you definitely aren’t going to have a good game,” Phillies closer Brett Myers said. “I don’t think any ballpark is an issue about anything. Yeah, they’re hitter-friendly, so they say, but if you go out and think about that, you’re just going to choke.”

Three key players will be missing in the Angels-Red Sox series: Tim Wakefield,
Gary Matthews Jr. and Bartolo Colon.

Boston left Wakefield off the first-round roster because of the knuckleballer’s ailing back. The Angels scratched Matthews because of an injured left knee, and Colon won’t pitch for Los Angeles after feeling pain in his right elbow during Tuesday’s workout.

“We all know Wake. He bleeds for us,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “But he understands this is the right thing to do. We were going to possibly put him in a situation that was not fair to him or the team.”

Matthews, who has never been in the playoffs since breaking into the majors in 1999, will be replaced in center field by Reggie Willits, and on the Angels’ roster by Erick Aybar.

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