Matheny: Lackey's start 'thing of beauty'

Matheny: Lackey's start 'thing of beauty'

ST. LOUIS -- At the end of what he surmised to be his best start of the season, in a game that ended with the Cardinals taking a 1-0 loss to the Reds, John Lackey had plenty left in the tank.

Had the 36-year-old right-hander been pitching in an American League ballpark with fences a few feet deeper, he may still be on the mound.

Jay Bruce's second-inning home run barely cleared Randal Grichuk's glove and the 400-foot center-field wall at Busch Stadium, and with the Cardinals needing a late-inning equalizer, they used a pinch-hitter for Lackey in the eighth, despite the fact that he had only thrown 86 pitches.

Lackey said that being a National League pitcher "got him," mentioning that he "definitely" could have gone longer, similar to his May 18 start at the Mets, when he was pinch-hit for after allowing just three hits on 76 pitches in seven innings.

Just like in that 2-1 loss to New York, his 21st start of the year dripped with brilliance on a night when the offense struggled to support him. Lackey has now put together nine straight quality starts, and each of his 12 home starts have fallen into that category.

Wednesday's eight-strikeout, two-hit performance reached an even higher level of efficiency than Lackey has achieved much of the year, as inning after inning he set down potent Cincinnati hitters with ease.

Aside from Bruce's homer, the Reds' only hit came on a bunt single from speedster Billy Hamilton.

"You can't ask him to do any more than that," manager Mike Matheny said of Lackey. "Randal comes close to taking that ball away, and we're still out there playing right now. … [Lackey's start] was a thing of beauty that we couldn't take advantage of."

The last time Lackey threw more innings through 21 starts was 2008 -- when he was a 29-year-old pitching in the AL for the Angels.

"I've had a couple of pretty good years in this league," Lackey said. "It's not my first time, but yeah I've been throwing the ball pretty good. You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself.

"This is a men's league here. If you get too far ahead of yourself, somebody will knock you down. You just keep grinding."

David Cobb is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.