Lackey handles it well
Righty's 6 2/3 innings set up Sox for a win
MINNEAPOLIS — As manager Terry Francona walked to the mound at Target Field in the seventh inning, an image flashed through his head. He thought of John Lackey, standing on another mound, in another time zone, screaming at another manager.
He thought of the last time Lackey had been removed from a game that mattered in the middle of an inning, when Angels manager Mike Scioscia was greeted by an irate pitcher shouting, “This is mine!’’ in Game 5 of the 2009 American Leage Championship Series.
Lackey didn’t scream yesterday. In fact, he didn’t protest at all. As he said, “I’ll give him a few starts before I start yelling.’’
“It’s funny what things will go through your head,’’ Francona said.
The pitcher knew he was done at that point, 6 2/3 innings into his first win as a member of the Red Sox, as Boston pulled out a 6-3 victory over Minnesota. He already had faced Joe Mauer three times, with just an infield single to the MVP catcher’s credit, and it was time for another pitcher to see Mauer. It was time for Lackey to head back to the dugout, without a peep, ceding the game to Hideki Okajima.
Especially because Lackey hadn’t exactly dominated. He had struggled to get through the afternoon, allowing four walks as his command deserted him.
“Uncharacteristically, he walked a couple of guys today,’’ Francona said. “I thought he had to kind of fight early to get in a rhythm. Fortunately, it seems like he’s always that ground ball away from getting a double play, which he did early.
“As he got into the game, he started spinning his breaking ball, especially in a couple 3-and-2 counts, 2-and-1 counts, which gets them off the fastball. He got us to a point in the game, I thought he did a terrific job.’’
He wasn’t alone.
“That’s why he’s one of the better pitchers in the league,’’ Mauer told reporters. “He comes right after you, gets out of jams, and he pitched me pretty good today.’’
The game wasn’t won when Lackey left, though. He exited with men on first and second for Okajima, with the Sox leading by just a run. And then came the moment that might have helped the Sox win: Victor Martinez allowed a passed ball.
“Once their guys moved up, didn’t seem like it was a real tough decision,’’ Francona said, knowing immediately that he would put Mauer on with an intentional walk, given that first base was open.
And though it wasn’t an easy catch, with Adrian Beltre darting in to make the play in front of the mound, Okajima did induce Justin Morneau to pop up. The inning was over and Lackey’s lead was safe, a 3-2 advantage that would get bigger in the eighth.
“It was a difficult situation, but I prepared to be in this kind of situation facing the Twins,’’ Okajima said, through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. “I feel fortunate to be able to get out of that, and get the results.’’
In the eighth, after a single by Kevin Youkilis and a double by Beltre, Jesse Crain intentionally walked J.D. Drew to face the struggling Mike Cameron, who has no hits since Friday. Cameron flied to left, bringing up Jeremy Hermida with the bases loaded. The left fielder came through.
“We had a one-run lead and we’re kind of clinging,’’ Francona said. “That gave us a little bit of room, especially when we come up and give up the leadoff home run.’’
Hermida shot the ball to the left-center gap, as Youkilis scored and Beltre scored and Drew scored. The bases were cleared, as Hermida pulled into second base with his fourth extra-base hit in just 14 at-bats — for an on-base-plus-slugging of 1.186 so far.
The hit became doubly important as Daniel Bard gave up a homer to Jason Kubel to begin the bottom of the eighth on a breaking ball over the plate, and allowed a double to Delmon Young. But Bard got out of the situation, and Jonathan Papelbon got through a save in which he walked two batters.
The Sox started their scoring in the first inning, as Marco Scutaro singled and scored on a Dustin Pedroia double. Scutaro, the leadoff hitter (for now), also contributed a second-inning RBI, sending Drew home. The fifth inning brought a solo home run from Pedroia, his fourth of the young season.
“Just got another good pitch to hit, and I hit it,’’ said Pedroia, who hasn’t been chirping about his 81-home run pace in the dugout. “I’ve kind of been quiet. I guess it’s a good thing. They’re probably tired of hearing me talk.’’
But the heavy work, the early work, was done by Lackey. He wasn’t quite as good as in his first start. He wasn’t quite as efficient. He wasn’t quite as fast. Still, he got the Sox to the victory. And though he clearly wanted to win, he didn’t feel the need to raise his voice to his manager — at least not this time.
“He’s terrific,’’ Francona said. “I don’t want somebody to want to give up the ball. I have no problem with that.’’