John Lackey was up against the ropes early on Saturday. But a few counter-punches later, the Red Sox were on the attack, and they eventually outlasted the Orioles in a hard-fought battle at Camden Yards.
Lackey entered Saturday’s start with a chance to really prove himself. Ryan Dempster pitched into the eighth inning on Friday, but with Jon Lester struggling and Clay Buchholz battling a neck issue, the Red Sox really need each of their No. 3-5 starters to answer the bell. And while Lackey stumbled out of his corner in the first inning, he pitched his heart out en route to earning a win in the Red Sox’ 5-4 victory.
The Orioles jumped all over Lackey in the first inning. Nate McLouth singled to lead off the game, and he scored three pitches later when Manny Machado hammered his major league-leading 31st double of the season down the left field line. Two more singles and a wild pitch later, the Orioles held a 2-0 lead with still no outs in the game.
At that point, it looked as if the Red Sox were destined to drop their third straight to the Orioles. A loss would have put Boston’s record against Baltimore this season at 1-5, and the O’s would have gained another game on the Sox and moved to within a half game of the American League East lead. None of that is particularly backbreaking this early in the season, but it would have further validated that the Orioles are becoming a thorn in the Red Sox’ side.
Something strange happened after Baltimore’s two-run, four-hit attack to begin the game, though. Lackey settled down to retire the next three hitters — Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy — to minimize the damage. And in the process, Lackey gathered some momentum.
Lackey entered the game having surrendered two runs or fewer in eight of his first 10 starts. Through an inning, the chances of him accomplishing that feat again looked bleak. But sure enough, six innings later, Lackey walked off the mound with the Red Sox holding a 5-2 lead.
Lackey found a groove after those first-inning struggles. He began to locate his four-seamer and cutter, and each time the Orioles started to gather some momentum, their rally was snuffed out.
No inning proved to be more important to Lackey’s outing than the fifth. Taylor Teagarden reached with a leadoff, infield single after a ball ate up Jose Iglesias down at third base. He advanced to third, and McLouth reached at first when Dustin Pedroia made a rare error on what could have been a double play. It was Pedroia’s first error of the season, and things undoubtedly appeared to be shifting in Baltimore’s favor.
But Lackey pulled a great escape. Jarrod Saltalamacchia gunned down McLouth on a stolen-base attempt for the first out, and Lackey fielded a comebacker cleanly for the second out before Nick Markakis flied out to deep left to end the inning.
In years past, the first inning, the fifth inning or even both — if Lackey lasted that long — probably would have spiraled out of control. That wasn’t the case this time around, and the Red Sox stopped the bleeding with a big win.
Lackey needed to play the role of stopper, and he did so with a resilient effort.