Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 5

Loss hits hard

Lackey battered, Red Sox beaten

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 11, 2010

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TORONTO — What’s the difference between Red Sox starters John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka?

One has struggled with his control all season, put too many runners on base, and has fans wondering whether he is worth the large contract paid to lure him away from the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The other one is Japanese.

Lackey had another rough outing yesterday, getting pulled in the fifth inning after giving up seven runs as the Red Sox were beaten, 9-5, by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I’m ready for a break,’’ said Lackey after the Sox lost for the fifth time in six games.

The Red Sox scored 14 runs on Friday night in the first game of the series and seemed determined to go into the All-Star break on a good note. Lackey followed that up by giving up three runs in the first inning as Toronto sent nine batters to the plate.

When the Red Sox came back to take the lead, Lackey gave it back.

“He always battles; he always competes. But it was a tough day for him,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “You could see him fighting it all day.’’

Lackey is 9-5, but that’s deceptive given the Red Sox are 9-9 in the games he has started since signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract in January. Lackey has a 4.78 ERA and has allowed 3.6 walks per nine innings, a 38 percent jump from the first eight years of his career when he pitched for the Angels.

Worse, perhaps, is that Lackey is averaging only 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, a 25 percent drop from his previous rate. He also has allowed 135 hits over 113 innings, 10 of them home runs.

“It’s been a mixture of things,’’ Lackey said. “Command definitely hasn’t been quite as good. Some other things, too.’’

Lackey would not specify what those things were.

“Honestly, this is the first kind of rough [start] I’ve had in a month in a half,’’ he said. “I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve been throwing the ball.’’

The Blue Jays didn’t seem impressed. Their first two hitters, Fred Lewis and Alex Gonzalez, had doubles. Lackey then walked Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells on eight pitches to load the bases.

His next pitch, a curveball, was a strike and Adam Lind drove it into center field for an RBI single. Aaron Hill then rocketed a ball to third base that Adrian Beltre turned into a force out as another run scored.

The Sox battered Toronto starter Brandon Morrow for five runs over four innings. Daniel Nava had a two-run double in the second inning, then scored on a double by David Ortiz.

Marco Scutaro, 4 for 7 in the series against his former team, added an RBI single in the third inning.

Lackey took a 5-3 lead into the fourth and walked Lewis before Gonzalez homered to left field. In the fifth inning, Lackey had two on and two out when Lewis checked his swing and poked a two-run double down the left-field line. That’s when Francona came to the mound and turned the rest of the game over to the bullpen.

“That’s kind of the way things have been going for me,’’ said Lackey, who disdainfully called the double “a lucky hit.’’

It was the fifth time in 251 career starts that Lackey walked six batters.

“That’s definitely unlike me, for sure,’’ Lackey said. “I was struggling a little bit with my command. But I had a little help, too.’’

Lackey was referring to the strike zone of plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, whom the Red Sox had issues with all day.

Five Toronto pitchers combined on 12 strikeouts, seven on called third strikes. Several of the Sox, including the usually placid J.D. Drew and Bill Hall, disputed those calls.

“It seemed like everybody on our team had a disagreement today,’’ Mike Cameron said.

It wasn’t until the seventh inning when the situation bubbled over.

When Cameron was called out looking at a fastball on the outside corner, he turned back and told Kellogg he thought the pitch wasn’t a strike. In Cameron’s eyes, the strike zone wasn’t the same as he saw from center field when Lackey was pitching.

Cameron went into the dugout, then was ejected. Francona emerged and was quickly ejected as well.

“I didn’t like what [Kellogg] was saying. I asked him what Cam said and he said he didn’t know,’’ said Francona, who after being tossed gave the umpire the heave-ho sign himself.

“I don’t understand it,’’ Cameron said. “I was walking back to the dugout and told him it wasn’t a strike. He said something back and when I went in the dugout, he kicked me out. I was telling him that wasn’t good enough.’’

The ejection was only Cameron’s third in 16 seasons, the second for arguing balls and strikes.

“It probably should be more,’’ Cameron said, “but I’m a nice guy.’’

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