Lackey can’t hold Yankees and keep Sox’ momentum
NEW YORK — These were the moments in which John Lackey was supposed to thrive, the big games and big situations. It was one of the reasons the Red Sox shelled out all that money and all those years for him.
Not that it was going to be easy, with the Yankees throwing CC Sabathia, making it the one starting pitching matchup this weekend that did not favor the Sox.
And the game followed form yesterday, with Sabathia outlasting Lackey, as the Sox dropped the second game of the series against the Yankees, 5-2, in front of 49,716 at the Stadium.
“He’s always good,’’ Lackey said of Sabathia. “He’s a guy you’ve got to throw up a lot of zeros against.’’
And Lackey couldn’t.
The Sox took a step back from the positives of Friday night’s series-opening win. They did not, however, lose any ground in the wild-card race, with the Rays losing big (17-11) to the Blue Jays.
On Friday night, Sox starter Clay Buchholz again was excellent; he has allowed three runs or fewer in 16 of his 19 starts this season.
Yesterday, Lackey allowed five runs — the 11th time in 23 starts he has allowed at least four. His ERA increased to 4.60.
Sabathia pitched eight innings of two-run ball, holding the Sox scoreless in every inning but the second, before handing off to Mariano Rivera.
Sabathia did a particularly impressive job against David Ortiz, who grounded into a double play in the first, and followed that with three strikeouts, further diminishing his already bad numbers against lefthanders. Ortiz is now batting .209 against southpaws, with one home run in 110 at-bats.
“He’s always tough,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said of Sabathia. “He’s so consistent, righties it’s fastball-changeup, and to the lefties he mixes in the breaking ball. He commands and competes. There’s nothing different. You know what’s coming, and you just have to hit it because he commands so well, he just goes back and forth.’’
Those were words that could have been applied to Lackey in the past. He came to the Red Sox billed as a guy who commands and competes, who doesn’t walk many, and doesn’t give up too many hits. All that has changed.
His walks per nine innings hadn’t topped 2.4 in each of his last three seasons. This year it’s at 3.56. His strikeouts per nine innings hadn’t been fewer than 7.09 over his last three seasons. This year it’s 5.83.
“When we faced him, we thought he was good. Now that we have him, we think he’s good,’’ Francona said. “His ERA’s higher . . . I think we all think he’s good. He’s been that guy at times this year, where like today, they bunch four hits together or he’s left the game and given up a couple extra runs. We love him to death. Just got outpitched today, or we got outplayed.’’
The Sox gave Lackey the early lead, picking up two runs in the second inning. Victor Martinez led off and took a 93-mile-per-hour fastball out to left field, demonstrating that his left thumb might be regaining the strength that was lost after it was broken by a foul tip. It was Martinez’s first RBI since July 26, and only his second since coming off the disabled list.
Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell followed with doubles for another run. But with Lowell on second and no one out, the Sox couldn’t put any more runs on the board, as J.D. Drew struck out, Bill Hall grounded out, and Darnell McDonald popped out.
“He’s always been tough,’’ Martinez said of Sabathia. “It’s not fun to face him. We got the early lead on him today, but he was able to settle down. You have to give credit to who deserves credit.’’
Added Lowell, “I don’t think his velocity was as high as it normally is, but he uses his offspeed very well, hits his spots, and he was still very efficient with his pitches.’’
The Yankees came back on Lackey in their half of the inning.
After walking Lance Berkman — the third free pass in six batters — Lackey gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, producing New York’s first run.
After striking out Brett Gardner looking, Lackey got Alex Rodriguez’s replacement, Ramiro Pena, to ground to second, but it scored Granderson and tied it at 2.
“In the second inning, I was definitely disappointed about that, us getting the lead and giving it right back, especially with the bottom half of their order giving those up,’’ Lackey said.
Three innings later, the Yankees broke that tie, hitting four straight two-out singles, the third potentially a catchable ball by Drew, the fourth a seeing-eye dribbler, to score two runs.
“Made a lot of good pitches. They kind of nickel-and-dimed me to death on that one,’’ said Lackey.
“I made some good pitches, and had several balls kind of just out of reach. You can do what you can do. I executed pitches in that fifth inning. Just didn’t have a whole lot to show for it.’’
But Lowell said, “I’m sure he wanted a couple pitches back.’’
The inning ended, finally, when Berkman grounded to Lackey, which produced boos from the crowd.
Berkman was, after all, the man who had knocked Rodriguez out of the lineup with a line drive off the shin during batting practice. He is also 2 for 22 in his short New York career.
“They bunched four hits together, those are two more runs,’’ Francona said. “The way CC was pitching, that’s too much.’’
Asked if he felt he has repeated the same refrain about Lackey over and over — that he has pitched well, but — Martinez said, “One has to win, one has to lose,’’ he said.
“The other side, CC was pitching pretty good. That was the only but, right there: CC.’’