When the Red Sox knocked CC Sabathia around the park once again, some began to wonder what he would offer in terms of resistance if his Yankees ever met Boston in the American League Championship Series. If the Sox own New York's lone sure thing atop the mound, what does that mean for the Yanks' chances if and when such a scenario unfolds?
But that's something for New York to worry about. If the Red Sox choose to look that far ahead, they have to be concerned themselves with who comes after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
It's encouraging to know that one of those candidates is in a pretty nice groove. It's also nice to know that John Lackey, the man in that pretty nice groove, is no stranger to the kind of environment an ALCS would involve.
"I've been around for a while," Lackey said after allowing three runs on six hits in six innings of a 10-4 win over the Yankees. "I've won a few big games in my life."
While it was not Game 3 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, Saturday certainly qualifies as one. Lackey's effort helped Boston snap New York's eight-game winning streak, moving the club back into a first-place tie in the AL East and continuing to make Sabathia's season in the rivalry a miserable one.
The Yankees ace is now 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Red Sox, compared to 16-2 with a 2.11 mark against all other teams.
Whereas Sabathia struggled to limit the damage, giving up two in the third and five in the fourth, Lackey excelled at it. He had a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth, but limited the Yanks to two runs on a double-play grounder to second and a single by Eric Chavez.
The first three reached again in the fifth, the third being Derek Jeter with an RBI single. With Alfredo Aceves warming in the bullpen, and Lackey approaching 100 pitches with the meat of the Yankees' order coming up, the righty buckled down and got the next three in succession. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were strikeout victims, while Robinson Cano tapped one weakly to first.
"They make you grind," Lackey said of the Yankees. "They're a lot like our lineup. Can't make mistakes, you want to throw strikes, but you can't just throw any strike. You know what I mean?…I take pride in those kinds of games. It's a grinder. You've got to grind through, it's not always pretty. At the end of the day, if you win, that doesn't much matter."
That's the same mentality that pays off in October. If Lackey's current run — 5-0 with a 3.58 ERA in his last six starts — means anything, he will be a big part of that formula.