Battery was charged up
Lackey, Varitek were in command
Terry Francona credited John Lackey for his crisp game management of the Tampa Bay Rays during his seven-inning stint on the mound in last night’s 8-5 victory at Fenway Park. The Sox skipper especially liked the way Lackey mixed up his 108 pitches against the Rays’ potent lineup.
Fastball? “Away and to the right, as he commanded, really good,’’ Francona said.
Changeup? “Good,’’ he said.
“He was never predictable,’’ Francona said. “He’s got so many matchups against these guys and he just never fell into a pattern. He was back and forth, changed speeds, he was terrific.’’
While Francona lauded Lackey (9-3, 4.46 ERA) for remaining undefeated in his last seven starts (5 wins, 2 no-decisions), the Sox righthander praised his batterymate, catcher Jason Varitek, for helping him navigate the Rays’ batting order.
When it came to the matter of his unpredictability on the mound, Lackey deferred to the Sox’ captain, who moved back into his familiar role calling the shots from behind the plate after starting catcher Victor Martinez fractured his left thumb Sunday in San Francisco and was placed yesterday on the 15-day disabled list.
“Honestly, I got to give Tek a lot of credit on that,’’ Lackey said. “I didn’t shake one time tonight. His game plan, his feel for the game was pretty incredible tonight. I just went with him.’’
Making his 16th start of the season and 250th appearance of his career, Lackey allowed just one run on eight hits in seven innings, with two walks and three strikeouts. None, however, was bigger than the punchout Lackey had of Jason Bartlett in the fourth that helped him escape a dangerous situation with runners on the corners.
“It was a big spot at the time,’’ Lackey said, after he froze Bartlett with an 82-mile-per-hour changeup on his 69th pitch, preserving a scoreless game.
The reason it had so much importance was the fact the Rays had the top of their lineup coming up and their starter, James Shields, was matching Lackey pitch for pitch through the first four innings. Shields escaped a similar jam in the bottom of the fourth when he struck out Varitek that stranded J.D. Drew (who reached on a walk) at third and Adrian Beltre (4 for 4, 2 runs) at second.
“As a starting pitcher, you’d like not to give up the first run, for sure,’’ Lackey said. “That’s always key, as far as momentum goes.’’
That much was evident in the fifth when Lackey responded to David Ortiz’s game-breaking three-run homer off Shields with a 1-2-3 inning on nine pitches. Lackey, though, benefited from his defense’s brilliant handiwork. Beltre narrowly avoided a collision with the sliding Varitek (“Beltre’s got a chance to go through everybody on our line, but that would have been a good one,’’ Francona cracked) to make a nice catch on John Jaso’s foul pop-up for the first out and Bill Hall, playing second base, got Lackey out of the inning when he ranged into foul territory near the tarp to make a snowcone catch.
“It’s fun to pitch on this team when we’re scoring runs and playing good defense,’’ Lackey said. “It’s a good mix right now.’’
And it feels even better when you have the utmost faith in your catcher to make the right calls behind the plate.
So he never shook off Varitek? “I didn’t shake one time,’’ Lackey said. “That’s the honest truth.’’
Did he ever come close?
“I mean, why would I?’’ Lackey said, with a chuckle. “We were putting up zeroes, so I wasn’t about to mess with that.’’