A's 4, Red Sox 3

Lackey in comfort zone, but he can’t get all A’s

John Lackey buckled after allowing a game-tying single to the A’s in the seventh inning. John Lackey buckled after allowing a game-tying single to the A’s in the seventh inning. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 12, 2010

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The American League West has been home for John Lackey, the place where he looks most comfortable on a mound. These are the batters he knows, the stadiums in which he’s done damage, the clubs against which he has had his most success.

So it was hardly surprising that Lackey was pitching well early in last night’s game, against an opponent (the A’s) he has tormented to the tune of a 17-4 career record and 2.86 ERA.

Until the seventh inning, that is.

It has often been said that Lackey has left the Sox with the opportunity to win after the seventh inning this season, despite his ERA and unremarkable record. But it was in last night’s seventh that things fell apart. He allowed the A’s to tie the score on three hits, more than he had given up in the first six innings combined, then allowed Oakland to take the lead soon after on a mislocated fastball to Rajai Davis who hit an RBI triple in the Sox’ 4-3 loss in front of 22,932 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

“You’re not going to execute every pitch, every game. That doesn’t happen,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “It seems like he’s paid for it. If we tacked on, we’d have been talking about how well he pitched, even though he ended up giving up a couple late.’’

Those late ones ended up losing the game for the Sox. That A’s lead stood up, as they added on a run in the eighth against Daniel Bard, in one of the reliever’s worst outings of the season. Though the Sox rallied with a run scored in the ninth, they fell short on a called third strike to pinch-hitter David Ortiz with the tying run on second base.

“He was really good,’’ Francona said, of those first six innings from Lackey. “He located, he threw first-pitch strikes, he threw all his pitches for strikes.’’

Lackey just couldn’t quite finish his outing. And he, and the Sox, paid the price. The Sox lost the first two games of their West Coast trip, and are in danger of being swept today.

“I was pretty much in control up until then,’’ Lackey said. “With our situation right now, you can’t make too many mistakes. Pretty much was throwing everything for strikes, was locating pretty well, just made a couple bad pitches in one inning.’’

The starter had help in the seventh, on a poor throw from Bill Hall in left. After a fly out by Kurt Suzuki, Jack Cust singled in Daric Barton with the A’s first run and moved to second on a bobble and wild throw by Hall. Mark Ellis also singled, driving home Cust and tying the score.

The A’s weren’t done. Davis followed with a triple that bounced past a diving Ryan Kalish in center field. Ellis came around to score, and the home team had the lead. After the final out of the inning, Lackey walked off the mound with his head down.

“Honestly I could pitch the exact same next year and have a totally different result,’’ he said. “It is what it is right now. We can’t make a whole lot of mistakes right now. I give up a couple runs, and it turns out like that.’’

Not that Lackey was the only culprit. It didn’t help that Bard had no command, walking Coco Crisp and Barton with one out in the eighth, then allowing a double steal. Suzuki was intentionally walked, which was followed by Oakland’s fourth run on a single by Cust.

“Uncharacteristically he had a tough time finding the plate,’’ Francona said. “And the one thing he’s really good at is holding runners. He kind of lost track of Coco. Made a difficult time — wasn’t commanding like he normally does — made it that much more difficult.’’

It was a strange outing, Bard said. He just didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t his stuff. It was more about what was in his head.

“Felt good physically. Felt like I hadn’t pitched in two weeks,’’ Bard said. “I think a lot of it is there’s not that same adrenaline rush as most of the situations I’ve pitched in this year. Sometimes you’ve got to create it on your own. I did that a lot last year pitching in different roles. Kind of forgot how to do it tonight, I guess.’’

Still, the Sox had a chance. They had scored single runs in the third and sixth, from the top and bottom of the order. Marco Scutaro, who had flip-flopped positions with Jed Lowrie, led off the third with a homer. Scutaro has reached safely in 20 of his last 24 games, and is batting .309 during that time.

In the sixth, the Sox added on, thanks to the lefty-on-lefty battle of Kalish against Brett Anderson. Kalish sent his second hit off Anderson to left with runners on first and second and two outs. Lowrie came in the give the Sox a 2-0 lead.

And there was still that chance in the ninth, too. After Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre hit back-to-back doubles, the Sox trailed by just a run with Ortiz coming to the plate.

That final pitch, a called third strike to Ortiz, was just as frustrating as all the rest. Ortiz, hitting for Mike Lowell, was clearly upset about the call, cursing all around the clubhouse after the game. Asked if he needed to watch tape on the pitch, he said, “No way. He threw his pitches. I was trying to fight it.’’

It was easy to admire the fact that the Sox, on their last legs, still had fight at the end. Yet, it wasn’t enough.

“We’ve got no choice,’’ Francona said. “That’s not been a concern. We had a good game going, we left some runs out there early, caught up with us late. Got some chances to kind of tack on. Their guy is really good, so when you get a chance, you probably better take it, even if it’s a lone run. When you don’t spread it out, if you make a mistake or whatever happens, that’s what can happen.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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