John Lackey is staking his claim to be the Game 1 starter in the NL Division Series.
Lackey on Tuesday allowed one run in seven innings, walked none and struck out seven to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3-1 win over Cincinnati.
Lackey (13-9) improved to 9-4 with a 1.97 ERA in 16 starts at Busch Stadium. All have been quality starts of three or fewer runs allowed in at least six innings.
“I guess I’m throwing the ball pretty good,” the matter-of-fact Lackey said. “I’m kind of old-school. I still look at the scoreboard.”
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In other words, wins are all that matter to the veteran right-hander, who turns 37 in a month. He has 165 in his career, which began in 2002.
“I felt pretty good from the get-go,” said Lackey, whose only mistake came in the first when Jay Bruce hammered a 456-foot homer to right. “I had to mix things up as I went along, but Tony (Cruz) called a good game and we were really on the same page. Things worked out.”
St. Louis turned inning-ending double plays in the second, fourth and fifth innings, and Lackey in self-defense caught a liner off the bat of Todd Frazier to end the sixth.
“I don’t even want to talk about that. My wife wasn’t a big fan of it,” Lackey said. “That was lucky and self-defense for sure.”
The Cardinals whittled their magic number for clinching the NL Central to eight over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who defeated Colorado 6-3.
Tommy Pham drove in two of the Cardinals’ runs with a third-inning double and a seventh-inning sacrifice fly that snapped a 1-1 tie. Kolten Wong had an eighth-inning sacrifice fly.
Steve Cishek pitched the ninth for his first save. Closer Trevor Rosenthal, who has 47 saves, and former closer Jonathan Broxton were unavailable.
“You have a little bit more juice when you’re going in for your first save with your new club,” said Cishek, acquired July 24 from the Miami Marlins. “It’s been a while, since early this year, that I felt something like that. It’s just awesome to be out there and have the opportunity to shut the door and help the team win. That’s what I was traded here for and I want to continue to contribute in any way possible.”
Cishek said he was “fired up.” He allowed a single Adam Duvall but recorded strikeouts of Eugenio Suarez and Tuckey Barnhart.
“I’m still new to the ballclub,” Cishek said. “That’s the first time I’ve had that opportunity to come into a big situation like that, to finish the game out.”
Lackey downplays his success at home, where his ERA is nearly two runs lower than on the road. He is 4-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 15 starts away from Busch Stadium.
“If you throw the ball well, you throw the ball well,” Lackey said. “It doesn’t really matter where it’s at. I definitely think there’s a comfort level here as a team just because it’s a fun place to play, great fan support. That kind of helps us all out.”
Lackey has worked at least six innings in 19 consecutive starts, and Reds manager Bryan Price expressed an opinion that Lackey is pitching as well or better than he ever has previously.
“As far as arm strength and knowledge and execution, it’s kind of all come together this year pretty well for me,” Lackey said. “You’ve got to give credit to both our catchers, Yadi (Molina) and Cruz, too. They’ve both been great to work with and it’s been a good deal.
“I almost won the Cy Young once (2007 when he finished third), so that was probably pretty good. I was probably pretty good that year. We’ve got a cool thing going on with the starters. We really root each other one. You don’t want to be the guy that messes it up. It’s kind of like a relay race. When a guy hands you a good one, you don’t want to mess it up and drop it.”