Lackey’s effort striking
He went from no-no to no-decision in a flash
SEATTLE — By the time the Red Sox finished their excruciating 8-6 victory against the Mariners Thursday night, 13 innings and nearly four hours had elapsed.
The fact that starting pitcher John Lackey lost a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning became an afterthought.
“That was probably one of the strangest no-decisions of my career,’’ Lackey said before the second game of the series last night. “But at this point, we just need to win games no matter how we do it.’’
Lackey allowed an unearned run in the second inning, the product of a walk, stolen base, and passed ball. But the Mariners did not manage a hit until Josh Bard dropped a single into right field in the eighth.
Jack Wilson followed with an infield single, but Lackey got Ichiro Suzuki to fly to left field, ending the inning and his outing after 116 pitches. He walked just the one batter and struck out six.
“His fastball command was outstanding,’’ catcher Kevin Cash said. “He was spotting everything where he wanted it.’’
It was the latest sign that Lackey is turning into the pitcher the Red Sox expected when he signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal in December. He has allowed two earned runs over 15 innings since the All-Star break and is 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA since June 1.
“Physically, I feel great. I feel really good about what I’m doing,’’ Lackey said. “I have a few new things I’m working on that I’ve incorporated into the last few starts. I feel good about where my game is at this point of the season.’’
Lackey, 9-5, has lowered his earned average to 4.36. The 31-year-old has been durable throughout the season, pitching into the seventh inning in 14 of his 20 starts.
Only two starters, Lackey and Jon Lester, have st ayed in the rotation all season. Manager Terry Francona believes that will pay off for Lackey by the time the season is over.
“When everybody was kind of wanting to say how disappointing he was, I kept saying you look up in the seventh inning and you have a chance to win regardless of how he was throwing the ball,’’ Francona said. “That’s a good trait. . . . That’s why we talk about consistency so much. Over the course of the year, if you’re consistent, those things will even up.’’
That some view his season as inadequate has been hard for Lackey to understand. The adjustment to Boston and the attendant expectations has not been easy.
“The negative gets way more play than the positive around here,’’ he said. “I didn’t lose in June and nobody talked about that. Who knows around here?’’
Lackey acknowledged he needed to improve the work he was doing on the mound, specifically with his control. Until recently, he was walking more hitters with fewer strikeouts than at any point in his career.
“Not new pitches, but different ways of throwing stuff,’’ Lackey said. “Some little things I’ve tinkered with have worked. My changeup has come a long way this year and I’m starting to throw that more often. That’s made my fastball better by using the change more often.’’
Pitching coach John Farrell has noticed the difference.
“I think going back the last four or five starts, he’s pitched with a lot more conviction in his fastball. I feel like his arm strength has continued to build over the course of the year,’’ Farrell said. “As his fastball has become better, it has helped his other pitches.’’
The next challenge comes Tuesday when Lackey faces his former team, the Los Angeles Angels. Lackey threw seven strong innings against the Angels May 5, allowing one run on two hits in a 3-1 victory at Fenway Park. This will be his first start as a visitor at Angel Stadium.
Lackey was 102-71 in eight years with Los Angeles and had a 3.12 ERA in 14 playoff games.
“It’ll be fun. It’ll be different being there and being on the other side,’’ he said. “But I know how to get there, that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to it.’’
Lackey’s departure from the Angels was not amicable, tensions with the front office leading to a segment of their fan base turning against him when he signed with the Red Sox after helping beat Boston in the American League playoffs last season.
“I hope they respect what I did for them,’’ he said. “If people knew the whole deal, I think they would feel differently. But I can’t worry about that. I’m with [the Red Sox] now and we need to win games. I have a job to do and I think I’ve proven that I can do it.’’