The Red Sox’ 7-6 win had the look of a disaster early on, but thanks to a gutsy, if not entirely sharp, effort by starter John Lackey and a shutdown performance by the bullpen, it goes in the books as a victory which follows the formula.
Get the lead. Hand it to the bullpen. Say goodnight.
"That’s how it’s supposed to go. That’s how they script it up," said Daniel Bard, one of three Boston relievers to throw a scoreless inning in relief of Lackey.
The script was in tatters early, however, making the end an unlikely one.
Lackey allowed six straight men to reach in a four-run second inning. There were two walks, two singles, two doubles and a host of groans among fans at Fenway who have witnessed an up-and-down season by Red Sox starting pitching.
Earlier in the day, the club announced that Tim Wakefield would be starting on Wednesday and Josh Beckett’s outing would be moved to Friday in Detroit. That left the bullpen down a man, and after Lackey’s second frame, it looked as if manager Terry Francona would have to dip into that depleted bunch a littler earlier than expected. All this a day before Boston starts Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has thrown a total of 10 innings in his two starts.
But Lackey "reeled it in," as Francona said, and allowed only a two-run shot to Jose Bautista over his final four frames. Lackey bent, but did not break.
"He competed without his best stuff tonight and got us to the point where our bullpen could do their job, and they did it really well," Francona said. "Because Lackey got to where he did, we were able to have who we wanted and they did a good job."
Did they ever.
Hideki Okajima needed just six pitches to retire the side in the seventh. Bard worked around a one-out walk in the eighth. And Jonathan Papelbon struck out leadoff man Fred Lewis on three pitches to start the ninth before inducing a pair of groundouts and nailing down his ninth save in nine chances.
Lackey, pleased he could just get the lead to the standout trio, then became their biggest fan.
"[Monday], the boys took care of me,” said Lackey, who improved to 4-1. "You definitely never want to tax the bullpen too much. It was nice to get through six and we were in line with Okie and Bard and Pap, and those guys were outstanding."
While Lackey gave credit to the 'pen, the 'pen gave credit to the big right-hander, who has gone at least six innings in six of his seven starts.
"That was huge — a lot of guys would’ve caved after giving up six," Bard said. "He battled and stuck with it and was able to hand us a lead."
Together, the foursome held the Blue Jays, who entered leading the American League in home runs and doubles, without a hit over the final four innings. Just how they drew it up.