Lackey stays cool ’til Sox cook in 7th
Boston may have baked in 100-degree heat yesterday, but John Lackey has withstood hotter.
Much hotter, in fact, playing beneath the Friday Night Lights on the scorched hardpan of his West Texas home. So when the official game-time temperature for the Red Sox’ 7-4 victory over the Mariners last night was reported at 96 degrees, Lackey scoffed at it.
“I played football hotter that,’’ Lackey said, proudly. “I’m from Texas.’’
Abilene, to be precise, where blast-furnace heat like yesterday’s was the norm for Lackey during football season. “Oh, I’ve had two-a-days around 110 [degrees], probably,’’ he said.
With three-fifths of the Sox’ starting rotation on the disabled list, who better to withstand the heat than someone who has been subjected to so much of it this season?
“He’s never lost it,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “He just had really bad luck, to be honest with you. He’d go three solid starts, go 3-0, then have that one bad outing. Then everybody writes him off and starts talking about him, which is tough.’’
And yet for all the criticism he’s endured about underperforming while being grossly overpaid, Lackey has begun to deliver when it matters most: Just as things are beginning to heat up.
Last night, Lackey outdueled Seattle’s Felix Hernandez to earn his third consecutive win and even his record at 8-8.
Over his last three starts, covering 19 1/3 innings, Lackey has allowed four earned runs on 21 hits and two walks, while striking out 18.
“Felt pretty good,’’ said Lackey, who went seven innings and used an effective changeup to hold the Mariners to one run on eight hits, while striking out four.
“Obviously, going against a guy like Felix, you’ve got to pitch well,’’ said Lackey. “When we scored our first run after I gave up that first run, it was a huge deal for us, for sure. It kind of restarted the game and gave us another chance.’’
The Mariners, whose losing streak reached 13 games, wasted little time in manufacturing the game’s first run. Ichiro Suzuki singled to center on the first pitch, before many of the Fenway Park crowd of 38,048 even had a chance to settle in their seats.
The Sox came back in the bottom of the frame to tie the game. Dustin Pedroia singled to left, extending his career-high hitting streak to 19 games, and moved up as Adrian Gonzalez grounded to shortstop. Kevin Youkilis rifled an RBI single to left for the tying run.
Jacoby Ellsbury broke the tie in the third with a leadoff homer to right. Ellsbury’s 16th homer of the season, which came on the heels of his two-homer effort Wednesday at Baltimore, gave him seven for July.
After grounding into four double plays - including one in the fifth with the bases loaded - the Sox erupted in the seventh for five runs on five hits and a walk (with some help from a throwing error). The Sox have outscored opponents in the seventh by the whopping margin of 90-32.
“We found some holes,’’ Pedroia said. “Felix’s got some great stuff and we got some ground balls that found some holes and we got a big hit and that’s basically it. That’s how you beat a pitcher like that. He doesn’t get hit around that much because his stuff is so great, but we were fortunate to win.’’
Gonzalez delivered the key blow, a seeing-eye, bases-loaded single up the middle (against a drawn-in infield) that brought home two and gave the Sox a 4-1 lead.
Hernandez (8-9), who absorbed his first career loss at Fenway, departed after allowing six runs on 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings, his shortest stint in eight outings.
Jeff Gray replaced Hernandez, but the Sox kept cooking as Youkilis doubled to left to bring in Pedroia (3 for 3 with a walk). Gonzalez, going for third, scored as left fielder Mike Carp’s throw hit him and bounded away, which enabled Youkilis to go to third.
David Ortiz, in his first game back after serving a three-game suspension, made it 7-1 with his single to center that drove home Youkilis.
Franklin Morales replaced Lackey to start the eighth and made it interesting by allowing Carp’s two-out, three-run homer. After Jack Cust doubled, Terry Francona had to bring in Daniel Bard to get Greg Halman to fly to right. Bard extended his scoreless streak to 23 innings (over 22 games).
Jonathan Papelbon picked up his 22d save with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The only thing that seemed glaring about Lackey’s line after last night was his ERA for the season (6.28).
“I know his ERA is high. I know what it is,’’ said Francona. “At the end of the year, it’ll probably be higher than we wanted, but it doesn’t mean if he pitches like this the rest of the year, it’s not huge for us.
“I think that’s what we’re kind of hanging our hat on, and I think he is, too. He has the ability to be a really good pitcher and he’s shouldered a really big burden and it seems like he wants to do that.’’
And if it gets hotter, then so much the better.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.