10/03/2003 6:50 PM ET
Lilly eyes redemption at Fenway
A's look for ALDS sweep behind southpaw
BOSTON -- It's the perfect ending to what's been a storybook stretch drive for A's starter Ted Lilly.
By Kent Schacht / MLB.com
The left-hander returns to Fenway Park to start Game 3 of the American League Division Series for Oakland on Saturday night, six weeks after hitting his season's rock-bottom point at the same stadium.
On Aug. 20, Lilly started the middle game of a crucial three-game series for the A's in Boston, but stumbled out of the gate to last only 3 1/3 innings, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs.
The A's pulled that game out, 8-6, prevailing with 5 1/3 scoreless innings of relief and a four-run eighth inning. A nice consolation for Lilly, but obviously a troubling time.
His ERA was at 4.99 and his record stood at 6-9. With Mark Mulder suffering a season-ending injury the day before his start, the A's needed Lilly more than ever.
Lilly responded, going 6-1 in his seven starts after that game, posting a 2.06 ERA and contributing as much as anyone to the A's playoff push.
"(Ted) was a main factor in us getting to the playoffs," manager Ken Macha said.
The secret to his success was a combination of things, according to Macha and Lilly, but it really came down to smoothing out the rollercoaster ride that was Lilly's early 2003 season.
The left-hander never won more than two in a row this season before his September run, alternating between good and bad starts on his way to personal and team frustration.
"I think I'm the same guy, pretty much, that I was in August. I felt like, for the most part, I've been pretty consistent the last two months of the year," Lilly explained.
That consistency has inspired confidence in the A's clubhouse.
According to Eric Chavez, despite Lilly's rough outing in the shadow of the Green Monster in August, he's excited to see the left-hander take the mound on Saturday.
"He's the perfect guy, in my mind. In the last (six weeks) he's been outstanding, so he's the perfect guy to be going for us," Chavez said.
Added Mark Ellis: "He's been awesome, one of our best pitchers in the last month or so. We're very confident that he'll go out there and throw great."
For Lilly, Saturday's start will also be a chance to erase some bad memories of his first and only postseason experience, last October for the A's, when he had two rough outings in relief.
He blew a save and took the loss in Game 1 of last year's ALDS against the Twins, going two-thirds of an inning and allowing two runs on three hits. He followed that up by surrendering four runs over 3 1/3 innings in Game 4.
"It was tough last year. Especially the situation, I think, that I put a lot of expectations on myself, and the fact that we had a chance to win a couple of those games," Lilly said. "So, obviously, the memories that I had from last year aren't very good. It's definitely nice to be able to get the chance to be right back at it again the following year."
Chavez said before Friday's workouts that it is an opportunity for Lilly to make everyone understand the kind of pitcher he has been over the last six weeks.
"Tomorrow's going to be a big day for him," Chavez said. "Personally I know he's going to be ready to go. He's going to want to put his name on the baseball map, and tomorrow's going to be the perfect game to do that."
Kent Schacht is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.