BOSTON — Fans can be forgiven if they don’t remember a whole lot about John Lackey’s last start. It came, after all, in the same game that New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from for being far too conspicuous with his use of pine tar — a story that dominated the baseball media for days.
Luckily for those absentminded Boston Red Sox supporters, Lackey was on point again Tuesday, tossing eight strong innings as the Red Sox took down the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 on a cold, damp night at Fenway Park.
The right-hander was clicking on all cylinders through the first four innings, retiring 11 of the first 12 batters he faced. A second-inning single by Wil Myers represented the lone blemish on Lackey’s stat line in the early going.
“I try to be aggressive,” said Lackey, who compared throwing his slider in the unseasonably cold conditions to trying to grip a cue ball. “I try to work fast. Especially when it’s cold out, I’m trying to get guys in the dugout. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun out there on the field today. I was trying to get outs as quick as I could.”
He labored a bit over the next few frames, surrendering extra-base hits in three consecutive innings and issuing his only walk of the night, but the Red Sox’s offense was able to do something over that span it struggled mightily to do last season: give Lackey some run support.
The Red Sox took the first lead of the game on a sacrifice fly by Shane Victorino (who went 4-for-4 with two RBIs in the game) in the bottom of the fifth. Then, after Tampa Bay tied it up with a sac fly of their own in their next trip to the plate, the Boston bats exploded for five runs in the sixth, sending nine batters to the plate against relievers Brandon Gomes and Juan Carlos Oviedo to put the game out of reach.
“He was outstanding once again,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Lackey. “He gave us a chance for the offense to get on track, made some big pitches after the leadoff double by (Rays first baseman James) Loney in the fifth to leave him stranded. They answer back with the one run to tie it in the sixth, and because we were in a low-run game, we were able to get to their bullpen and put up the five in the sixth. Once again, (Lackey) goes through eight strong innings tonight.”
After allowing an RBI double to Andover, Mass., native Ryan Hanigan in the seventh, Lackey was perfect in his final frame, retiring the Rays in order before handing the ball to the Red Sox’s bullpen for the ninth.
All told, it was the first time Lackey has completed eight innings in consecutive starts since September 2009, and the first time he’s done so in a Red Sox uniform. That’s a performance worth remembering.