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Thursday, July 28, 2011
Lackey escapes with fourth straight win

By Darren Hartwell

BOSTON -- John Lackey wasn’t especially sharp Wednesday night. With the way Boston's offense has been performing as of late, he didn't have to be.

The Sox starter was tagged for four runs (three earned) on 11 hits -- two of which were home runs -- in 5 2/3 innings, but the juggernaut that is the Red Sox offense continued to roll, banging out 12 runs on 16 hits to secure Lackey his fourth straight victory.

John Lackey
Despite giving up 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings, John Lackey allowed just three earned runs.
For Lackey, the win snapped an unusual string of, for lack of a better term, consistent inconsistency. Starting with a loss to the Mariners on April 30, Lackey dropped three straight decisions, went on the disabled list, won his next three starts, lost his next three after that, and had three straight wins heading into Wednesday’s start.

After the first inning, the start of another three-game skid looked to be ahead. Lackey got two tough breaks from the start, as a misplayed ball by Yamaico Navarro became an Alex Gordon double and an error by Kevin Youkilis on a Melky Cabrera ground ball put runners on first and second with no outs. After striking out Royals DH Billy Butler, Lackey left a 2-0 changeup over the plate to Eric Hosmer, who deposited it into the Monster seats to give the Royals an early 3-0 lead.

But the Sox had Lackey’s back by scoring 10 runs over the first four innings.

“It was nice, for sure,” Lackey said of his team’s offensive exploits. “As a pitcher, you’re OK with sitting over there for some extra-long half innings to watch that and get a lot of run support.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I came here. Some of my years in Anaheim, it wasn’t exactly like that,” Lackey added with a laugh.

Perhaps inspired by his team’s offensive efforts, Lackey settled down after his rough first inning and pitched reasonably well from that point on. After loading the bases to start the second, he found his groove and retired the next eight batters he faced.

“Lack kind of beared down,” manager Terry Francona said after the game. “The first inning was a little ugly. The first ball hits low off the wall, then we get the error, and then a ball hit a long way. But he settled down and got them out.”

After three scoreless innings, the tall right-hander ran into trouble in the fifth when he gave up a solo shot to Butler, then loaded the bases but escaped further trouble. In the sixth, with his pitch count above the century mark, Lackey was pulled with runners of first and third in favor of Randy Williams, who induced an inning-ending fly out from Chris Getz.

Wednesday’s outing wasn’t one of Lackey’s best, as he surrendered double-digit hits for the fourth time this year. That being said, he has won four outings in a row and hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of them.

“The pitch count was kind of high, but he threw all of his pitches for strikes, he threw his fastball by some people, he could elevate it at times, threw his breaking ball for strikes,” Francona said. “I think he’s pitched a lot more consistently.”

With Andrew Miller’s recent struggles and an uncertain timetable for the return of Clay Buchholz, a more consistent Lackey would be a huge boost for the Red Sox rotation as they head into August.