- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- Tim McCarver, the former catcher and long-time Fox broadcast analyst, once said wryly of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, whom he caught numerous times when they both played with the Cardinals:
"Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when the other team doesn't score any runs."
Gibson's luck didn't always hold: In his greatest season, 1968, he lost five games by the score of 1-0.
Luck doesn't qualify for inclusion in any conversation about John Lackey's career with the Red Sox, the notable exception being the massive good fortune that comes with signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal as a free agent upon his arrival.
For three seasons after that, a lot of hard knocks: bad pitching, worse elbow, an entire season lost to surgery and a fan base inclined to hold him at arm's length.
Now this season, one in which Lackey in reshaped form and focus has reverted to the pitcher who was revered as a big-game pitcher in his previous incarnation with the Angels. Once every five days, he has taken the mound as Boston's most dependable pitcher. In 18 of his 23 starts, he has held the opposition to three runs or fewer. On merit, he should rank as one of baseball's big winners this season.
But after Friday night's 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lackey is 8-11, a loser of five of his past six decisions. He gave up three hits and did not walk a batter in his first complete game since Sept. 10, 2009. But one of those hits was a two-run home run by Hanley Ramirez, the former Sox shortstop batting cleanup in the midst of one of history's greatest runs -- the Dodgers 46-10 since June 22 and 29-5 since the All-Star break.
The Sox have been shut out 10 times this season. Lackey has been the losing pitcher in five of them, in games started by J.A. Happ, Jered Weaver, Chris Tillman, Brett Oberholtzer and now Ricky Nolasco. Four of those shutout defeats have come in the past six weeks.
This has become old hat for the Dodgers. This was their 18th shutout win this season. It has also become part of a distressingly familiar pattern for Lackey: pitch well, lose, endure questions about how well you pitched and lost, while trying not to bite your tongue in half as you resist the temptation to vent.
"It's frustrating, you know, when one pitch can decide a game -- it's true," he said.
Lackey not only maintained his equilibrium, he even managed a small joke when asked about Nolasco, who limited the Sox to singles by Dustin Pedroia with two out in the first and Stephen Drew with one out in the fifth.
"He did great, obviously," Lackey said. "Punched me out a couple of times."
Lackey could swing the bat growing up in Abilene, Texas; in the American League, not so much. He has four hits in 41 career at-bats with 13 whiffs. As a barometer of Nolasco's effectiveness, there are probably more telling measures, like Jacoby Ellsbury, who came into Friday night's game having hit safely in all 15 of Boston's interleague games this season -- batting .438 -- but failed to get the ball out of the infield against Nolasco, who, like Lackey, did not walk a batter and struck out six.
Lackey finished the night with a 3.17 ERA, which ranks 11th best in the American League and a far cry from the 6.41 he posted in 28 starts in 2011 before shutting it down for postseason elbow surgery.
"I want to win the game," he said. "I didn't come here for ERA. I came here to try to win a championship."
The Dodgers' other hits off Lackey were singles by former teammate Carl Crawford, who had lined a hit to right and stolen second during Ramirez's at-bat.
"He was trying to quick-pitch me," Ramirez said of the 1-and-2 pitch Lackey threw him. "I made a good swing, and I was lucky the ball went out."
The ball cleared the center-field fence. Lackey luck. The worst kind.
2hESPN Stats & Information