For much of the season John Lackey was getting credit, deservedly so, for picking up wins, while some gave him grief for the manner in which some of the wins came. The hits and walks were up, the strikeouts were down and despite a 9-5 record the number of critics was on the increase, especially after his rough outing in Toronto before the All-Star break.
In an odd twist, perhaps his best effort comes without a ‘W’ attached to his name. The big righty will take it any time.
Lackey threw seven stellar innings in a hotly contested duel with Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee on Saturday night at Fenway Park, ending up with a no-decision in the Red Sox’ 3-2 walk-off win in 11 innings.
“It was about as good as I’ve been this year,” said Lackey, who gave up two runs in the sixth but otherwise matched Lee throughout.
The performance, while somewhat of an afterthought following a game-tying rally in the ninth off Lee and a game-winning rally in the 11th, was also timely. Boston had dropped seven of nine games, had seen its league-leading offense cool off significantly of late and could muster little off Lee, who lasted nine innings for the fifth time in six games.
David Ortiz doubled in Darnell McDonald in the bottom of the first inning to start the scoring against Lee. But from the second through the eighth, the Sox managed only one baserunner on a double by Mike Cameron in the fifth.
It was so easy, so fluid that Lee had thrown fewer than 90 pitches entering the ninth.
Aside from the Rangers’ two bloop RBI singles with two outs in the sixth, Lackey kept Boston within shouting distance, which, as it turns out, was right where they needed to be.
“He was tremendous,” Boston manager Terry Francona said of Lackey. “He got two outs [in the sixth] and they strung together three hits and a walk and that was it. The way Lee was pitching it was fairly obvious we couldn’t give up much. Lackey was very good.”
The statement inning may have occurred in the seventh. Although his pitch count was at 104, Lackey went out for the seventh, setting down the Rangers in nine pitches and getting the game to the final innings with the final result hanging in the balance.
The bullpen did its job and when Kevin Youkilis tied the game with a two-out RBI single in the ninth and then won it with a sacrifice fly in the 11th, Lackey made sure he was around to take part in the celebration.
On a night he gave all he had, there was a sense that sticking around might pay off.
“Can’t say enough about this club,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of things going against us right now but we keep grinding, we keep battling. We got a lot of pros in that room that want to be here for the long haul.
“[The celebration] was great. I came back out there on the bench, be a part of the boys. I was ready to jump around a little bit.”
Overall, Lackey allowed seven hits, struck out three and walked two. He got 13 outs on the ground and threw 70 of his 115 pitches for strikes, looking very much like the guy who said he was looking forward to the second half of the season, a time when his game has improved throughout most of his career.
Lackey’s ERA in the first half of 2009 was 4.93. In the second half he posted a 3.05 mark. He hopes Saturday’s effort is the start of a similar pattern.
“I don’t know for a fact but I’m pretty sure my numbers are better in the second half,” said the Texas native, whose lifetime ERA is 0.15 better after the break. “I don’t know what it is, maybe bigger guys get rolling a little bit later. I’m feeling really strong and feeling really good about where I am right now.”
For a night, Lackey didn’t have to wait around for a lackluster win to get credit. A superb no-decision did just fine.
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