NEW YORK -- While most of the 23,338 fans at Citi Field on Monday night showed up to take in the next Matt Harvey performance, Cardinals starter John Lackey, 10 years Harvey's elder, went toe-to-toe with the Mets' stud right-hander in a pitchers' duel that extended well beyond both of their exits.
Lackey may have received a no-decision as the Cardinals dropped a 2-1 decision in 14 innings in the series opener, but he set up a come-from-behind chance with seven superb innings to follow Lance Lynn's 7 1/3-innings gem on Sunday. It would have allowed for another bullpen breather, too, had the Cardinals not extended the game to 14 innings.
As it was, though, Lackey was in many ways more dominant than Harvey. While Harvey scattered six hits and a walk over eight innings, Lackey faced just one over the minimum. The only trouble for him was that the one scored. Lucas Duda's ability to poke a single past an unorthodox shift -- the Cardinals stationed three infielders on the dirt between first and second -- resulted in the only blemish of Lackey's night.
Lackey followed it with a double play, one of two he induced.
"You couldn't ask any more from anybody," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was good. He had life on the fastball. He was spotting right from the start, just making good pitches and making them come to him. He was not making mistakes. The only blemish there was we had an opportunity to kind of get around Duda, and he ends up making us pay. It's unfortunate."
Lackey declined to offer additional insight on his outing, saying, "Not tonight, sorry guys, not tonight," when approached by the media after the game.
Lackey's efficiency was remarkable, as he finished those seven innings on 76 pitches. He did not need more than 13 pitches to get through any inning and thrice finished a frame on 10 or fewer. He became the first Cardinals pitcher since Mark Mulder (July 8, 2005) to finish seven innings on 76 pitches or fewer. Mulder needed 73.
The Cardinals would have gladly pushed Lackey deeper, too, had they not needed to go all-in for a late-game run. Instead of having Lackey, a career .101 hitter, lead off the eighth, Matheny sent up Peter Bourjos with the team trailing, 1-0. The move came without immediate payoff, and Lackey was caught by TV cameras expressing displeasure at being yanked.
"We have an opportunity to get a premier speed player on base in Peter Bourjos," Matheny said. "So we have to take a shot right there."
The Cardinals would rather not think about what state their rotation would be in without Lackey. Already facing an innings shortage sans ace Adam Wainwright, Lackey's propensity to go deep will continue to be key. His outing on Monday made him the first Cardinals starter to eclipse 50 innings. He has finished at least seven innings in half of his eight starts.