BOSTON — It’s hard to believe that John Lackey went longer than a month without winning a ballgame.
Lackey, who has been the Red Sox’ best pitcher at times this season, entered Saturday’s game having gone five straight starts without a win despite tossing at least six innings in each of those outings. He needed a victory more than ever Saturday, and he responded by turning in an excellent performance to propel the Red Sox past the Yankees 6-1.
“He set the tone for us, particularly in the fifth inning after we scored the three runs,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s in a second-and-third situation with no outs and really minimized the damage. I think as best and briefly described, he set the tone for us from the mound today, which we needed.”
The Red Sox entered Saturday’s game on the heels of a three-game losing streak, which included a 10-3 loss in Friday’s series opener. The brief skid pulled the Rays to within one game of the Red Sox in the American League East, and Boston was on the verge of losing four straight games for the first time all season.
Lackey answered the call, though, and he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after tossing 6 2/3 solid innings. The righty gave up just one earned run on six hits while striking out one and walking three. It wasn’t the most overpowering that Lackey has been this season, but the veteran showed plenty of poise, particularly during two major jams.
The first jam came in the second inning, when the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs. Lackey gave up two singles and issued two walks in the inning, yet he escaped the potentially disastrous situation unharmed by getting Chris Stewart to lift a lazy fly ball to center field.
Lackey’s second great escape came in the fifth inning. Lyle Overbay led off with a single and Stewart followed with a ground-rule double down the left field line. The Yankees looked poised to chip away at the 3-0 lead that the Red Sox built in the fourth inning, but Lackey buckled down and held New York to just one run.
“The fifth was probably more important, as far as having two guys on and nobody out,” Lackey said. “To try to minimize that and only give up the one run, especially after the guys got me three runs. You definitely don’t want to give them right back. The guys did great swinging the bats against [Hiroki Kuroda] who’s having a great year.”
Lackey’s inability to notch a win in his previous five starts was hardly his fault. He did experience a few hiccups in those outings, but overall, he has pitched much better than his 8-10 record suggests.
“I think in that case the record doesn’t indicate how well he’s pitched and how consistent he’s been for us,” Farrell said. “I know this is the first win in over a month for him, but there’s been a couple of occasions where he’s pitched on the wrong day and gone up against another starter who’s held us in check. But to his credit, he’s earning everything that he’s getting right now, with the commitment he made in the offseason and how well he’s pitched.”
Lackey now leads the Red Sox with 15 quality starts this season, and he’s been a stabilizing force in a rotation that has been without Clay Buchholz and has endured inconsistency from Jon Lester. Saturday’s win was relatively big, although Lackey wasn’t ready to place any more emphasis on it than Boston’s other 73 victories.
“Not any bigger than any of the rest of them,” Lackey said. “They all kind of count the same. You’ve got to keep moving forward and keep playing good baseball.”
Lackey has been playing good baseball. Fortunately for him, he now has an extra win to show for it.