Saturday night, against a lineup without Fielder but perhaps made stronger by several key offseason acquisitions, Lackey faded away faster than he had at almost any other point this season.
Facing the Detroit Tigers for the first time since besting Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS, Lackey matched his season high in runs allowed (six) while also matching his season low in innings pitched (5⅓) as the Red Sox dropped their second consecutive game against the Tigers 6-1.
"They're pretty good," Lackey said of Detroit's hitters. "They're deep all the way through the lineup. They've got the MVP from last year [Cabrera]. They've got a guy leading the league in hitting right now [Martinez]. They're pretty good."
After retiring the side on 10 pitches in a seamless first inning, Lackey ran into trouble early in the second by loading the bases with no outs on a single, walk and another single. However, Lackey gave up only one run in the inning, on an Alex Avila fielder's choice that second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a strong diving play on.
Lackey's third inning started better, as he got Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter out in a matter of five pitches. But lackey left an 0-2, 94 mph fastball over the plate to Cabrera, and the reigning MVP promptly deposited it beyond Pesky's Pole in right field for a home run. It was the first home run Lackey allowed at Fenway since Sept. 19 last season, against the Baltimore Orioles.
Then came the fifth inning, in which Lackey completely unraveled. After getting No. 9 man Rajai Davis to ground out to short, Lackey gave up three doubles and a single in a span of five Tigers hitters to bring Detroit's lead to 4-1. The Tigers tagged Lackey for two more doubles in the sixth that led to their final two runs and ended Lackey's night.
"That was pretty much really the inning that I'd like to take back, I'd like to do better in," Lackey said. "Just didn't locate some balls in that inning."
Manager John Farrell agreed that Lackey's location was the cause of his struggles on the night.
"I thought he had very good stuff," Farrell said. "There was some mislocated fastballs, particularly to the arm side, that they were able to capitalize on. When you see all the doubles by the right-handers, those were balls that ended up on the inside part of the plate."
Added Farrell: "The consistent fastball location wasn't the same tonight as we've seen for just about every start this season for John."
On the bright side, Lackey set a new career high with his 33rd straight start of five or more innings pitched. The streak is the second-longest active streak among American League pitchers behind, you guessed it, ALCS Game 3 loser Verlander (34 games).