Lackey again rides high in Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey, a native of the west Texas town of Abilene, grew up a Texas gunslinger.

Sunday in Arlington, Lackey certainly looked the part again.

With a quick tempo, Lackey picked up the win, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out nine over seven innings in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers.

Globe Life Park in Arlington has seen only one opposing pitcher more often than Lackey, as he made his 20th start in Arlington and pulled a game over .500 with an 8-7 career record at the major league park just a few miles away from where he played his college ball, at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything here,” Lackey said. “I’ve been here so many times. I’ve had some good ones here and I’ve had some really bad ones and a lot in between. It was a good one.”

He allowed just one hit through the first three innings before giving up a solo home run to Shin-Soo Choo. After settling back into a rhythm in the fifth and sixth, Lackey allowed one more run on three hits in the seventh before striking out two to end the inning and his outing of 112 pitches, 73 for strikes.

Lackey’s high volume of strikes and his quick tempo on the mound endears him to catcher A.J. Pierzynski, and manager John Farrell said he believes that pitcher-and-catcher connection has helped Lackey excel through his past three starts.

“I want all our guys to go fast,” Pierzynski said. “I wish we could go fast every time. He wants the ball and he wants to go. He doesn’t like to wait around and I like that. I like guys that get the ball and throw it. He’s really good at that and does a great job with it.”

The battery utilized Lackey’s slider more than the first time he faced the Rangers this season in Boston, Pierzynski said, keeping the Rangers off balance for most of Sunday’s contest.

The mark of Lackey’s recent success, however, comes from his ability to make opponents earn their way on base.

The starter did not allow a walk in Sunday’s game and has allowed no more than two walks in his past four outings. In fact, he’s allowed two or fewer walks in six of his eight starts this year.

“He puts a lot of pressure on the other team,” Pierzynski said. “He doesn’t walk guys. He usually doesn’t fall behind guys and he makes guys swing the bat.”

Naturally, the Red Sox grabbing a 3-0 lead before Lackey even took the mound helped the starter settle into the game and be a little more aggressive with his pitches, but that’s exactly how Pierzynski likes to call the game anyway, Lackey said.

“He’s an aggressive game-caller and I think I pitch pretty aggressively and I think we mesh pretty well with that,” he said.

The win moves Boston a game above .500 (19-18) for the first time since it held a 2-1 record three games into the season. Sunday also marked the third consecutive series win for the Red Sox, who hadn’t managed to put two series wins together in their first nine sets.

The cause is simple: Lackey and the starting rotation around him.

“That’s really where it starts,” Lackey said. “Starting pitching sets the tone for a lot of stuff and we’ve got some pretty good ones on this team and hopefully we can keep that rolling.”

With another off day for the Red Sox Monday, their third in eight days, Lackey entered his day of rest like any true cowboy after a day of work under the hot Texas sun.

With his cowboy boots on, Lackey pulled his white, straw cowboy hat down over his brow (to the joking catcalls of his teammates), and rode off into the sunset to spend his day off at his ranch a little more than an hour west of his offseason home in Fort Worth, Texas.