BOSTON — John Lackey really can’t catch a break.
Lackey pitched very well in Thursday’s loss to the Twins, yet it’s one play that ultimately doomed his outing and overshadowed everything else that went right. What makes the whole situation stink even more for Lackey is that it isn’t the first time this season he’s had an unfortunate sequence bury him.
The Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Thursday before back-to-back extra-base hits by Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks put the Twins on the scoreboard in the fifth inning. Lackey showed brief ineffectiveness during that two-pitch span. He threw a hanging breaking ball with a 3-2 count that Arcia banged off the center-field wall for a triple, and he caught way too much of the plate with a four-seamer to Hicks, resulting in an RBI double. But even then, Lackey bounced back to strike out Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier to minimize the damage. It was the sixth inning that was disastrous.
Joe Mauer, whom Lackey struck out three times on Thursday, led off the sixth with a single, and Justin Morneau worked a one-out walk to set up runners at first and second. The Twins were knocking on the door, and Lackey’s next move let them in. Trevor Plouffe grounded back to the mound for what should have been a tailor-made double play, but Lackey’s throw to second sailed into center field. The throwing error allowed Mauer to score, Morneau to advance to third and Plouffe to reach. More importantly, it opened the floodgates for a big, four-run inning, and it completely changed the complexion of the game.
Ryan Doumit hit a sac fly that scored Morneau, who just slid under David Ross’ tag (Shane Victorino made a beautiful throw from right field), and Arcia followed up by launching a two-run blast into the bullpen to give Minnesota all of the momentum and control.
Lackey ended up pitching one more inning. Four of the five runs he surrendered were unearned, even though it was his miscue that led to those unearned runs and eventually his third loss of the season. The righty has no one to blame but himself for that sixth-inning meltdown, but we shouldn’t lose sight of how effective he was for much of the game.
“The errant throw opened the door for them,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “In the sixth inning [Lackey] was his own worst enemy. Other than that, I thought he pitched really well.”
Sure, pointing to Lackey’s eight strikeouts or his ability to pitch into the seventh inning on 102 pitches highlights a silver lining in an otherwise dismal stretch for the Red Sox, who have now lost six of their last seven. But assessing Lackey’s starts this season has often required going beyond the box score.
Lackey’s first start against the Blue Jays ended with him landing on the disabled list and his immediate future in doubt despite what had been 4 1/3 solid innings. Against the Rangers on Saturday, Lackey was pitching one-run ball in the fifth inning when Texas struck for two runs on a weird play that was ruled an infield single plus an error. He also received little run support in that game.
This isn’t to make excuses for any of Lackey’s losses, especially since he was the one who fired the throw into center field on Thursday. Looking at the overall package, though, it’s hard to complain about where Lackey is at compared to previous years. It’s now a matter of cutting out these little debacles.