BOSTON -- In the first two games of their three-game series at Fenway Park this week, the Red Sox and Twins managed to score only four runs combined. Red Sox veteran John Lackey knew this. So did Twins rookie starter Kyle Gibson. With runs at a premium, the two battled Wednesday afternoon in what shaped up to be a pitchers' duel of unforeseeable proportions.
Who blinked first during their outing? Neither.
Under beautiful skies, both Gibson and Lackey pitched shutout ball, leading the way for their respective teams in a scoreless tie that was settled in extras when the Red Sox walked off 2-1 on back-to-back home runs from David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the 10th inning.
Lackey went nine innings, striking out nine and surrendering only three hits, while Gibson went seven, allowing a career-low one hit and striking out a career-high eight batters.
“We’re playing the most one-run games in the Major Leagues so this isn’t new to us by any means,” manager John Farrell said of the Red Sox effort. “I will say that the guys that walk to the mound -- they know that their execution and consistency is critical. One-run games, we’re not trying to go out there by design, we’re grinding away as best we can.”
From the start of Wednesday's game, Gibson gave the Red Sox nothing. He retired the first 14 hitters he faced before Daniel Nava hit a ground-rule double to right for the only hit he surrendered. His eight strikeouts made him the first visiting pitcher at Fenway with that many K's without allowing a run since Brian Matusz of the Baltimore Orioles in 2010.
“I’ll tell you what,” Ortiz said, “that kid that pitched for them today -- wow. Very impressive. For a young kid to have that sense of knowing what he’s doing and spotting his pitches the way he did -- very impressive.
“He kept us away from doing some damage.”
Not to be outdone, Lackey mowed down the Twins lineup on his way to becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to throw nine shutout innings without earning a win since Matt Young did so in 1991. Lackey threw 74 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
“I think that’s what we’ve been accustomed to seeing here,” Farrell said. “That’s not to take him for granted by any means. He was powerful from the first pitch of the game to the 105th one he threw."
Needing only 12 pitches to get through the ninth, one could argue that Lackey looked strong enough to pitch the 10th, if needed. However, Farrell opted to turn the game over to closer Koji Uehara, who allowed a home run to Chris Parmelee that ended his streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings.
“[Lackey] was well aware that he did his job,” Farrell said. “In the middle of that top of the ninth I thought he might want to go back out for the 10th. He more than did his job, an outstanding performance.”
Lackey, often upfront about his desire to stay in games when he feels he still has some in the tank, said he conceded to Farrell on this occasion without an argument.
“I don’t ask on anything,” Lackey said. “If you want to leave me in, I’ll stay.”
Despite both walking away without a decision, Lackey and Gibson ended Wednesday on high notes. Lackey has posted a 1.60 ERA over his last six starts and recorded his team-leading 12th quality start in the contest. Meanwhile, Gibson has a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest active streak among American League starters.
“The whole series has kind of been [an offensive struggle],” Lackey said. “Their kid coming in has been throwing the ball really well. I knew it was going to be a challenge for our offense. He threw great again today. I was able to keep us in it long enough and the boys came through in the end.”