Until it counted.
And when the National League Division Series began last weekend at Dodger Stadium, the focus was on the showdown between the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Cardinals' Adam Wainwright in Game 1. Even when it came around to Game 3 on Monday night at Busch Stadium, the buzz was about Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu returning after sitting out 23 days with left shoulder inflammation more than Lackey taking the mound.
Until it counted.
Not that Lackey really cares.
He may not be known as Big Game John and he may put together solid, but not spectacular regular seasons throughout his career, but when he gets that chance on the postseason stage, Lackey, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, has proven he can "git 'er done."
Slowed in the final weeks of the regular season by a bit of arm fatigue, Lackey was at full strength in doing the bulk of the mound work for the Cardinals in a 3-1 victory on Monday night that gave them a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five series.
He spread 100 pitches over a seven-inning effort in which he gave up one run on five hits and a walk, striking out eight. He did for the Cardinals on Monday what he did against them a year ago when he gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings of a 6-1 Red Sox victory in the sixth and final game of the World Series.
"We knew what we were going to get," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've seen it from the other side, been on the bad end of it. He's got a great mix of intensity, but still is able to keep himself under control in the big situations. He thrives on being out there. He wants the ball. He proves it by how he goes out and throws."
Don't get the wrong idea. It's not like Lackey's career has been a tub filled with dirty dishwater.
He has a 152-117 record and 4.03 ERA in slightly less than 12 big league seasons. He has won 13 or more games in six of the last 10 years, including going 19-9 with an AL-best 3.01 ERA with the Angels in 2007.
In October, the record is 7-5 but the ERA is 2.92, and the wins have come in BIG GAMES.
In that rookie season of 2002 with the Angels, he was 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA in five postseason appearances, three of them starts. And he capped the October off with a five-inning, one-run effort in the Angels' 4-1 World Series Game 7 victory against the Giants.
A year ago he put the finishing touches on a postseason that saw him win his starts against the Rays in the Division Series, the Tigers in the ALCS and by shutting down the Cardinals in the world championship-clinching victory at Fenway Park.
And now the effort against the Dodgers, giving the Cardinals at least a little margin for error in trying to finish off the NL Division Series and having to face Kershaw in Game 4 on Tuesday with a well-rested Zack Greinke awaiting a start if a Game 5, is necessary, at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night.
No surprise. It's show time. Lackey likes the stage.
"There's definitely different energy, a different adrenaline level," he said of the postseason. "That can take you to special places when you use it the right way. And the atmosphere [at Busch Stadium] was great. The fans were unbelievable. You feel that. You feed off that. If you channel it the right way it can definitely help you out."
Lackey has found the channel and has fine-tuned the picture.
"Outstanding," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said of Lackey. "Unbelievable. He was aggressive with the fastball and putting them away with the breaking one down. Unbelievable start."
Lackey has done his job.
Now it is up to either Shelby Miller in Game 4 or a well-rested Wainwright in Game 5 to finish off this series, and allow the Cardinals to take that next step in the effort to avoid the disappointment they suffered a year ago thanks to Lackey and his former Red Sox teammates.