Boston Red Sox: John Lackey

Lackey unfazed by disappointing loss

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
BOSTON -- Red Sox pitcher John Lackey apparently holds grudges.

The veteran right-hander was shaking his head after Boston's 7-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the nightcap of Saturday's day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park. He felt he had thrown the ball the best he has all season, but he still allowed five runs on 10 hits.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJohn Lackey struck out 11 but took the loss after giving up five earned runs on 10 hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings Saturday night.
But it wasn't the fact that his record dropped to 9-6 with a 3.84 ERA that had his attention. It was the 5-for-5 performance by the Orioles' Nelson Cruz that had Lackey all fired up.

Cruz had a monster night at the plate. He had three hits off Lackey, including a home run, single and double. In Cruz's last at-bat of the game in the top of the eighth inning, he drilled a ball to deep right field for a double. He attempted to stretch it into a triple for the cycle, but he was thrown out 9-6-5.

After the game, Lackey wasn't about to tip his cap to Cruz for his performance.

In the past, Lackey and other Red Sox pitchers have expressed their displeasure with players suspended for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy. This past August, while playing for the Texas Rangers, Cruz was suspended 50 games for violating MLB's drug agreement related to the Biogenesis investigation.

Cruz, who signed a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Orioles, is hitting .286 with 27 homers and 70 RBIs this season. His five hits Saturday were a career-high.

"I'm not going to comment on him," Lackey said when asked about Cruz's prowess at the plate. "I've got nothing to say about him. There are some things I'd like to say, but I'm not going to. You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff."

This past season, Lackey and fellow starter Jon Lester were outspoken about the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez being allowed to play during his appeal process after he became one of 13 players suspended. He was the only player to appeal and was allowed to play.

Even Red Sox manager John Farrell was brief with his comments when asked about Cruz's performance on Saturday.

"Swinging a hot bat. Looks strong," Farrell said.

As for his 18th start of the season, Lackey, who never lacks for confidence, felt he was locating all of his pitches. The few mistakes he did make, the Orioles took advantage of.

"Honestly, that's about as good of stuff as I've had all year," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out what happened. I don't know how I gave up five runs. But you've got to give their guys a lot of credit. It's a tough lineup. I made a couple of mistakes, and they hit a couple of balls out of the park."

"They've got a good lineup," he went on. "It seemed like every time they touched the ball it was a hit. They were finding holes. It was basically a strikeout or a hit."

Overall, he worked 5 1/3 innings and tossed a season-high 120 pitches (82 for strikes). His 11 strikeouts also matched a season high. He'll make one more start before the All-Star break, and he's pleased with the way he's been throwing the ball, especially in Saturday's loss.

"We've got a long way to go, man," Lackey said. "I felt great tonight. I'll take my chances with that stuff most nights, for sure."

In the top of the second inning, it appeared the Red Sox pulled off a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play, but the call was overturned in Baltimore's favor. J.J. Hardy led off the inning by reaching on an error by Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli. With Manny Machado batting, he worked the count full when Hardy took off for second. Machado swung and missed, and while catcher A.J. Pierzynski made the throw to second, Machado's bat hit him on the backswing. Plate umpire Mike DiMuro signaled batter's interference right away, but the umpiring crew reviewed the call after Orioles manager Buck Showalter came out to argue. After a five-minute delay, Hardy returned to first base after originally being called out attempting to steal.

Despite the delay, Lackey retired the next two batters, but after the game he admitted it was a bit uncomfortable standing on the mound for that long before the call was made.

"It's not ideal when you're 35 to stand around for five minutes," he said. "It's probably something they can speed up a little bit, but what are you going to do? I tried to throw a few pitches. I think it's something that'll get tweaked as there's more experience with the system. Overall, they're getting the calls right, so I guess it's a good thing."

During the matinee game of the twin bill, Cruz went 0-for-4 with a strikeout as Lester dominated the Orioles in his eight-inning performance before Boston provided a 3-2 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth. Cruz must've eaten his Wheaties between games because he went off in the nightcap.

"I think overall he had very good stuff," Farrell said of Lackey. "A lot of swing-and-miss to his fastball and his breaking ball alike. High number of strikeouts runs his pitch count up there. Because he does throw so many strikes, he's around the plate. Over the past three or four starts, the long ball has been mixed in a little bit more. But he goes into the sixth inning with the lead, and then they bunch some hits together, and unfortunately we come away on the down side."
John Lackey, Jon Lester Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Sox hope John Lackey and Jon Lester can shut down the Orioles in Saturday's doubleheader.
BOSTON -- Saturday's forecast calls for no rain, with partial clouds and wind in the afternoon, and with it the Red Sox are hoping they can right the ship once again after one of the most disappointing series of the season.

The Sox returned Monday from a 10-game road trip in which they went 4-6 and promptly got swept by one of the worst teams in baseball, the last-place Chicago Cubs of the National League Central. Nothing seemed to go Boston's way, whether it was having to break up a no-hit bid by Jake Arrieta in Game 1, or stranding 10 runners in a 2-1 loss in Game 2, or just completely blowing up in Game 3, allowing 19 hits in a 16-9 loss to complete the sweep.

And suddenly, any momentum gained from last weekend's series at Yankee Stadium is gone, and the Sox are back at square one, falling nine games under .500 for the first time since May 25. That game, an 8-5 loss to Tampa Bay, was their season-worst 10th straight loss at the time, marred even further by a bench-clearing brawl after Yunel Escobar stole third uncontested with a six-run lead.

Following that loss, of course, the Sox reeled off a memorable seven-game win streak, so perhaps there is hope yet. Either way, some are right to wonder whether the last few days are the low point of the season.

Manager John Farrell is sticking to the weekend's lineup of starting pitchers after Friday's rainout. The Sox will send their top two pitchers to the mound Saturday, with Jon Lester (9-7, 2.92 ERA) taking the ball in Game 1 and John Lackey (9-5, 3.62) in the nightcap.

In the season series, the two teams are split at 5-5. Orioles cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz, who ranks second in MLB in RBIs (68) and is tied for first in homers (26), has historically had a good chunk off success against both of Saturday's pitchers -- particularly Lester, against whom Cruz has registered .458/.519/1.000 totals with three homers in 27 career at-bats.

The Sox come into the series not as desperate for offense as it appears -- they totaled 24 hits in their last two games -- but definitely in need of a jolt. David Ortiz has 4 RBIs in his last seven games, including a three-run jack against the Yankees, but otherwise he is 4-for-21 over that span. On the other hand, Dustin Pedroia has been heating up of late, going 12-for-24 in his last six games with five RBIs.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 8, Yankees 5

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29

NEW YORK -- So, was there a difference in the Boston Red Sox's offense Sunday night? You bet(ts).

The result: The Sox marked the arrival of Mookie Betts’ major league debut by generating a dozen hits and eight walks, a first in one game this season, and rolling to an 8-5 win over the New York Yankees before a crowd of 48,124.

The Big Picture I: The Sox won the rubber game of this three-game set and finished their 10-game, three-city excursion with a 4-6 record. They are 18-25 on the road, 15-20 in the AL East and trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by six games.

The Big Picture II: The Jays are 12-15 in June and have lost nine of their past 13 games. Despite a losing record on the trip, the Sox picked up a half-game on Toronto.

Big Picture III: It's worth noting that on June 8, the San Francisco Giants were 9½ games ahead of the Dodgers. Three weeks later, the teams are in a virtual tie for first place.

Mookie mania: Betts did his part, grounding a single in the fourth for his first major league hit, then walking and scoring his first big league run in the sixth. He also was caught stealing and missed a diving attempt at a liner by Ichiro Suzuki that went for a triple.

No less than the prince of the Yankees, Derek Jeter, who at 40 is 19 years older than Betts, tossed the ball from the kid’s first hit into the visitors’ dugout for a memento, while his father and mother, Willie and Diana Betts, and his fiancée, Brianna Hammonds, watched from box seats in the second deck.

Hit-o-rama: But this was a night in which everyone in the Sox's lineup got into the act.

* Dustin Pedroia singled in each of his first three-at bats, giving him six straight hits, hit a sacrifice fly and drew a walk. He scored a run and drove in three, and also stayed in a rundown long enough after being picked off for another run to score.

* David Ortiz hit a three-run home run off Yankees starter Chase Whitley in the third, his 19th home run of the season and 450th of his career, in the third.

* Mike Napoli, who always hits in games John Lackey pitches (24-for-55 on his career), doubled and scored Boston’s first run.

* Stephen Drew singled Napoli home, his second RBI of the season, for the first Sox run.

* Brock Holt walked twice and singled, scoring two runs.

* Jackie Bradley walked and scored, singled, and also threw out Carlos Beltran at the plate when he attempted to score in the sixth with the Yankees down three runs.

* A.J. Pierzynski threw up his arms again in mock celebration when he blooped a hit in the fifth.

Lackey gets a pickup: Lackey was knocked around for five runs (four earned) in five innings, giving up home runs in the fourth to Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, but was credited with the win. He is 7-0 in games in which the Sox score four or more runs.

Shutdown pen: Sox relievers pitched two-hit ball over the last four scoreless innings, striking out six. Andrew Miller K’d three in the seventh.

NEW YORK -- Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, whose unvarnished opinion of Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka ("What an idiot") would never have been uttered had he known a dugout microphone would pick it up, does not play favorites.

Still, despite the fact his game-winning home run in the ninth inning Saturday night -- the one that came at the expense of the heedless Tanaka -- made a happy man out of Sox pitcher Jon Lester, Sox starters have noticed a definite trend.

If form holds, folks who tune in to Sunday night's nationally televised game between the Sox and Yankees will see for themselves that when John Lackey is pitching, Napoli is likely to do some damage at the plate.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonMike Napoli rounds the bases after hitting a two-out, two-strike Masahiro Tanaka fastball over Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field.
"Yeah, no kidding," Lester said. "Somebody noticed that the other day. It's crazy. He's got to take care of his boy."

It started in Lackey's first start of the season, in Baltimore. Napoli had two hits, including a home run, and knocked in four runs. Next start, a three-hit game, and before the end of May, there would be two more three-hit games.

But it is in June that Napoli's pro-Lackey campaign has really taken off. He had three hits, including a game-tying home run, with Lackey on the hill June 8 in Detroit. His next start, against the Indians, there were two hits and three RBIs.

On June 18, after Lackey pitched nine scoreless innings in Fenway Park and departed the game with a no-decision against the Twins, Napoli hit a walk-off home run in the 10th.

And this past Tuesday in Seattle, in a game in which Lackey was routed, Napoli still did his part, with two hits, one another home run.

Need one more piece of compelling evidence? Go back to this past October and Game 3 of the ALCS, a thrilling 1-0 duel won by Lackey over Justin Verlander of the Tigers. The only run of the game came on a gargantuan home run by Napoli.

"The numbers are pretty good, huh?" Napoli asked Saturday night.

How about spectacular? In the 14 Lackey starts in which Napoli has batted this season, he is hitting .431 (22-for-51) with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs.

He doesn't like him that much, does he?

"He's my boy," Napoli said. "We grew up together."

Lackey, who had headed back to the team's hotel early to rest up for his start, wasn't around Saturday night to dish on his longtime friend, who was drafted by the Angels in 2000, one year after Lackey was picked.

Lackey made it to the majors four years ahead of Napoli but was there when Napoli marked his debut in 2006 with a home run off Verlander in his first big league at-bat.

"I remember that, for sure," Lackey said after Napoli's postseason blast off Verlander. "He got called up and hit one off Verlander on a curveball. And I said, 'We need that dude, keep him around here.'"

Lackey left the Angels first, signing with the Red Sox after the 2009 season. Napoli left a year later for Texas, before the two were reunited with the Sox last season. Neither one has shied from a good time since, many of them shared together.

Napoli is too easygoing to disparage a player, friend or foe. That's what made his gleeful comment about Tanaka to teammates as he returned to the dugout, caught on Fox TV, so startling.

Napoli was referring to the fact that Tanaka, who had devoured him with split-fingered fastballs in two earlier at-bats -- striking him out each time -- would throw him a fastball with two strikes and two outs in the ninth. What made it an even more egregious mistake is that the batter on-deck was Stephen Drew, who is mired in a horrific slump.

"He had me right where he wanted me," Napoli said.

Tanaka acknowledged afterward that he had twice shaken off Yankees catcher Brian McCann, until he got the sign for a fastball, and threw a 96 mph heater over the fat part of the plate. Napoli didn't miss it and drove it over the short right-field porch into the first row.

It was his sixth home run at Yankee Stadium since joining the Red Sox, the most by any visitor since the start of the 2013 season.

"Luckily, we're in Yankee Stadium and not anywhere else, and that ball goes out," said Lester, who was looking at a no-decision after allowing one unearned run in eighth innings.

Instead, he got to watch Koji Uehara polish off the Yankees and set up Sunday night's rubber match, with Lackey on the hill and Napoli at the ready.

Lackey, Gibson at top of their game

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
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.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsJohn Lackey became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw nine shutout innings without earning a win since Matt Young did so in 1991
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."

[+] EnlargeKyle Gibson
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesKyle Gibson didn't pitch like a rookie Wednesday, and drew high praise from a veteran opponent. "I'll tell you what, that kid that pitched for them today -- wow. Very impressive," said David Ortiz.
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.”

Lackey's good, but he's also smart

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
BOSTON -- After 12 years in the majors, pitcher John Lackey knows what he's doing.

So when the big Texas right-hander carried his game plan over from his complete-game quality-start loss against the Cleveland Indians June 2 into Friday night’s rematch, there was no concern from anyone on the Red Sox side.

And after three subpar innings utilizing that same approach to kick things off Friday night, there was still no panic from his teammates. Because Lackey then did what he’s done best the past couple of years of his career -- made adjustments.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Charles KrupaWhen his game plan wasn't working early on, Lackey changed things up Friday and then retired 14 of 16 hitters.
“They’re an aggressive team, they like to swing,” Lackey said of the Indians. “I definitely started to mix up it up a little bit more after that third inning.”

Allowing three runs on six hits and burning 58 pitches to make it through the first three innings Friday night, Lackey made several crucial in-game adjustments to keep the Tribe hitless until an Asdrubal Cabrera double with two out in the seventh ended his night. The 35-year-old went 6 2/3 innings total, allowing seven hits and throwing 110 pitches on his way to his fifth straight quality start as the Red Sox rolled to a 10-3 win.

“They put up a number of good at-bats early on, and after the third inning his location became much more consistent, he was much more efficient,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was nearly at 60 pitches after three innings. To get into the seventh inning -- a testament to his ability to make adjustments in-game.”

Taking the mound with rain coming down steadily at Fenway, Lackey admitted that he was stuck battling the conditions early on in his start. After a nearly effortless first inning, Lackey hiccupped in the second to the tune of a two-run homer allowed to Indians first baseman Carlos Santana. The home run was the first that Lackey has given up since May 17, a span of five starts.

“The homer was a 2-0 slider. That definitely stood up as a red flag where he was at,” Lackey said. “Changed some things facing him the next couple of times.”

With the Red Sox offense tacking on three runs in the bottom of the frame, Lackey took the mound in the third with a lead in hand. Still having not changed his approach, Cabrera drilled a double to left field against him before Michael Brantley followed suit with a double of his own on a 0-2 curveball to tie the game back up in a span of two batters. The pitch served as a breaking point for Lackey.

“I was really kind of pissed about the 0-2 double I gave up to Brantley,” he said. “I can’t do that, I need to either finish him or throw a ball or something. You can’t give up a hit 0-2. I didn’t like that one so much.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Charles KrupaLackey was congratulated by teammates after being taken out during the seventh inning.
From there, Lackey held the Indians lineup punchless, retiring 14 of the next 16 hitters before he gave up his next hit as the Red Sox offense kicked into gear to give him a two-run lead that he wouldn’t relinquish.

“The thing about John is he might give up a run here and there, but you know he’s going to be in it until late,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Six and two-thirds tonight after a high pitch count early but he settled down and got us into the seventh. That’s what veteran starters do and starters that know how to win -- that’s what they do.”

So just how do they do that?

“They just know how to compete. They know how to make pitches when they need them. They know how to get through innings and how to sometimes conserve pitches. John’s one of the best at it,” said Pierzynski.

“I think John deserves a heck of a lot of credit for where he’s at,” Pierzynski added. “His numbers reflect that.”

Now at 8-4 on the season with a 3.24 ERA, Lackey has proven himself as one of the team’s most reliable options each time he takes the field. Farrell said as much after the game.

“They had a good plan against him and then he started to use his fastball a little more in some of those counts that he otherwise was using his curveball,” Farrell said. “Sped them up to respect the velocity.

“That’s the kind of veteran that John Lackey is.”

Lackey: No talk yet of extension

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
BALTIMORE -- John Lackey’s strong performance as a starter this season, a continuation of the impressive comeback he mounted last season from Tommy John surgery, already has invited plenty of speculation about his future in Boston.

The situation has more than the usual intrigue because Lackey, who will be 36 in October, is bound to the Red Sox in 2015 for $500,000, the byproduct of a clause in his contract that stipulated if he missed time for Tommy John elbow during the life of his five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Sox, Boston could tack on an option year for the minimum.

That arrangement prompted a report from Fox baseball analyst Ken Rosenthal that Lackey might consider retirement before he would pitch for such a relatively modest salary. A good reason, Rosenthal said, for the club and pitcher to explore a two-year extension.

Lackey said Wednesday he had not spoken with Rosenthal about the possibility of retiring. Asked if that option was on his radar, he said, “I’m not even thinking that far ahead right now. I’m just going to pitch right now and think about that stuff after the season.’’

As well as he's pitching, why would he retire?

“No, I’m still having fun, still pitching well,’’ he said. “Honestly, I’m just focusing on pitching right now. I haven’t looked that far down the road.’’

Lackey said he hasn’t asked the Sox for an extension. “Haven’t even thought about it,’’ he said.

Would he like to have that conversation with the club? “We’ll see how things go in the season,’’ he said. “I’m just worried about pitching against the Indians in a couple of days.’’

Lackey is scheduled to face Cleveland Friday night in Fenway Park.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 5, Tigers 3

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8

DETROIT -- David Ortiz's three-run homer in the top of the ninth turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead and the Red Sox held on for the win at Comerica Park on Sunday night, snapping a five-game losing streak.

Ortiz drove a 1-1 pitch from familiar foe Joba Chamberlain deep into the right-field stands with one out in the ninth.

The win averts a sweep in the three-game series and a sweep in the season series against the Tigers, who won the first five meetings.

A bulldog as usual: John Lackey (7-4) pitched eight innings to earn the win. He allowed three runs -- two earned -- and seven hits. He walked one and struck out five. Lackey threw 112 pitches, 74 for strikes. Koji Uehara pitched the ninth for his 12th save. Chamberlain (1-3) took the loss.

Napoli's back: Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, who returned on Sunday after being on the disabled list since late May due to a sprained finger on his left hand, made an immediate impact. His line-drive homer into the right-field seats leading off the sixth inning tied the game 2-2. It was Napoli's sixth homer of the season, and the first home run off Sanchez since Napoli hit one against him at Comerica Park in last season's American League Championship Series. Napoli was 2-for-3 after walking on a 3-2 pitch in his first at-bat back and even stole his first base of the season.

Suarez comes through again: Detroit shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who recently was called up from Triple-A Toledo, put the Tigers ahead 3-2 with a seventh-inning single after tying the game at 1-1 with an RBI single in the third. He homered on Saturday night for his first major league hit.

This left-field stuff is easy: Brock Holt, who was playing the first game of his professional career in the outfield, made an outstanding running, twisting catch in left of Ian Kinsler's long drive to end the third inning. Holt made the catch on the warning track near the fence while running toward the fence and the left-field line. Holt also was 4-for-5 at the plate.

Cabrera leaves game: After a two-out single in the sixth inning, Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera was removed from the game with left hamstring tightness and replaced with Don Kelly. Cabrera appeared to be laboring while legging out a double and then scoring from second on Victor Martinez's single in the fourth. Cabrera is day-to-day.

Wasted opportunities: The Red Sox loaded the bases with one out in the third against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez, but got only one run out of it. That came on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly that gave Boston a 1-0 lead. Ortiz ended the inning by striking out on a 3-2 pitch. The Sox missed out on another opportunity in the fourth with runners on first and third with one out. Sanchez struck out Stephen Drew and Jackie Bradley Jr. to get out of it.

Boston had a chance to break a 2-2 tie in the seventh after Holt's one-out triple. But with the infield pulled in, third baseman Nick Castellanos made a diving stop on Xander Bogaerts' grounder and threw him out at first. Ortiz then flied deep to center against lefty reliever Phil Coke, who was brought in to face Ortiz (now 2-for-19 against Coke). Coke struck out Bradley to end the eighth with runners on first and second.

High pitch count: Despite getting only two runs and six hits in six innings off Sanchez, the Red Sox made him throw 112 pitches. He walked two and struck out seven.

W2W4: Sox-Tigers, 'Sunday Night Baseball'

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8

DETROIT -- The Boston Red Sox look to avoid a series and season sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" at Comerica Park.

Not only has Boston lost the first two games of the series, it has dropped five consecutive games this season to the team it beat in the American League Championship Series last season.

But reinforcements are on the way.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMike Napoli sat in Boston's dugout Saturday, but the Sox hope he provides a boost in his return to the lineup Sunday.
First baseman Mike Napoli, who has been on the disabled list since late May with inflammation stemming from a dislocated finger on his left hand, is scheduled to be activated on Sunday, and the plan is for him to go right into the lineup at first and his accustomed fifth spot in the batting order behind David Ortiz.

The Red Sox had been struggling offensively, but their bats perked up in Saturday night's 8-6 loss to the Tigers, and they're expecting another boost from Napoli.

"You're talking about a guy who had over 20 home runs and almost 100 RBI for us a year ago [23 homers and 92 RBIs]," Boston manager John Farrell said. "So that's a guy we're happy to have back."

Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who homered on Saturday night, agreed.

"A huge part of our order. A run producer. We need him," Pedroia said.

The Red Sox will send John Lackey (6-4, 3.28 ERA) to the mound against Detroit's Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 2.15).

Jon Lester was totally ineffective in taking the loss on Saturday night. He gave up five runs and 12 hits in 4⅓ innings. He said he didn't feel right from the time he started warming up in the bullpen.

"Hopefully, Lackey will come out and pick me up tomorrow night," Lester said after Saturday night's game.

Sanchez has allowed only a combined run and five hits in 15⅓ innings over his past two starts, with one walk and 14 strikeouts, but doesn't have a win to show for it.

The Tigers also feature the dangerous duo of Miguel Cabrera (.321, 11 HR and 51 RBIs) batting third in the order and Victor Martinez (.329, 14 HR and 37 RBIs) batting cleanup.

Cabrera was 3-for-4, including two doubles, with a RBI on Saturday night, and Martinez had a run-scoring double in five at-bats.

BOSTON -- When the Boston Red Sox were attempting to win the World Series in October, manager John Farrell took the scouting reports, statistics and matchups and tossed them all in the garbage when it came to deciding whether to put Jonny Gomes in the lineup.

The manager went with his gut and it worked.

Gomes started 11 games during the 2013 postseason and the Red Sox went 10-1 with him in the lineup. His teammates fed off his energy and persona.

[+] EnlargeJonny Gomes
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesJonny Gomes had another productive effort Wednesday as the Sox won three straight for the first time this season.
This season, the Red Sox have struggled and recently endured a 10-game losing skid. Despite facing back-to-back right-handers in the past two games, once again Farrell thought it best to dismiss the matchups and start the right-handed hitting Gomes.

"He's one of the players that makes others around him better," Farrell said. "The way he talks the game, the confidence in which he speaks. And he goes out and backs it up with somewhat of the body language and the energy that he displays every night. He doesn't take anything for granted, he's had to work for everything that he's received throughout his career. It's a guy that plays on the edge and you feel it when he's standing in the batter's box or the way he interacts with everybody in the clubhouse."

On Wednesday, Gomes went 2-for-3 with a walk, one RBI and two runs scored to help the Red Sox to a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Braves at Fenway Park. It was Boston's third consecutive win, the first time this season the Red Sox have won three in a row.

"It's always a compliment when he puts me in the game, or puts me in the lineup in the beginning," Gomes said. "I don't think I'm playing out of my shoes right now. I'm just trying to do what I can to generate some runs and help this ballclub win. [Being called] a spark plug is a compliment, but I'm not one to ever applaud hustle or ever applaud playing the game right, because I think everyone should and that's what I try to do every single day is playing the game right."

Gomes believes in the pitch-to-pitch, game-to-game mentality. Everywhere he has played, his teams have enjoyed success. It's a role he's mastered, and the Red Sox are reaping the benefits of late.

"Tomorrow's not a guarantee for me," he said. "I just run it out there and anyway I can generate a run on the board and hopefully take one off on defense is all I'm trying to do."

Gomes added, "It can be exhausting at times, but I've done it for a while to where every pitch, every at-bat is not so much pressure, but I put a lot on it and have a lot of pride in it. Even if I do play sparingly I want to get in there and try to affect the game somehow."

As poorly as the Red Sox played during that recent skid, they've been opportunistic in the past few games. Starter John Lackey, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., all contributed to Wednesday's victory.

Lackey worked 6 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed only eight hits with zero walks and nine strikeouts. With the win, the right-hander improved to 6-3 in 11 starts this season. It was the third time this season Lackey has registered at least nine K's.

"He was great, he just had command. Keeping the ball down, making pitches when he had to, commanding multiple pitches," said Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "When John does that he's pretty tough, especially in this park with the wind blowing in."

This season has been an eye-opening experience for rookies Bogaerts and Bradley. But with more playing time, both are showing signs of becoming more consistent. On Wednesday, Bogaerts went 3-for-4, including a double, a walk and a run scored. He has reached base safely in 10 of his last 11 games. Bradley went 2-for-4 with a double and RBI.

"We're trying to win the World Series again, we're not trying to just run it out there," Gomes said. "They're on a roll right now and we've got to continue to put some weight on their shoulders and they've got to carry it as well."

Added Gomes, "It's a pretty veteran team, but at the same time the young guys are really young. You've got to let them fail, you really do. You need to let them fail and get themselves out and if they can't that's when you come in. You succeed and fail on your own."

Within the Red Sox clubhouse there's a feeling that the recent losing skid never existed. Ask players about it, and they'll brush it off as if it didn't happen. The players believe they can easily win 10 games in a row, too.

"Obviously, it wasn't ideal," Gomes said of the losing skid. "No one truly had their head in the sand, no one was ready to throw in the white towel on the season, by any means. It was just a rough patch, but this team does a pretty good job of turning the page, cleaning the slate once we leave these double doors here, and likewise on a win. What we did tonight doesn't matter tomorrow. We'll clean the slate and get back to work tomorrow."
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Guess it's probably too late to reschedule next Wednesday's salute at the Fens to the 2004 World Series champs, no?

On the other hand, Red Sox fans haven't had much of a chance lately to cheer a winner, so they might enjoy becoming reacquainted with the feeling.

By the time you read this, 206 days will have passed since the Sox celebrated their third World Series title in a 10-year span. Doesn't quite seem like yesterday, does it, not with the Sox sliding into last place Friday night, percentage points behind Tampa Bay, after their eighth straight loss, a 1-0 walk-off defeat to the Rays.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Steve NesiusJohn Lackey pitched seven scoreless innings, but the Sox were once again done in by a toothless offense.
The Sox have scored a total of 16 runs during this losing streak, longest since the Bobby Valentine era ended with him falling off his bike. They have led once in the 72 innings spanning their eight defeats. Sox pitcher John Lackey did everything but pull Rays hitters into a steel cage with him Friday night, seven-plus innings of staring holes through Tampa Bay bats, and it wasn't enough.

Not on a night when the Sox never got to within hailing distance of third base. Not on a night when another late-inning bunt failed. Not on a night when the Sox guessed right with a pitchout in the bottom of the ninth and Desmond Jennings still stole second, setting up the winning run.

And not a night when Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team has been dealing with some hard times of its own, elected to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez, who had hit a walk-off home run the day before, with one Cole Figueroa, who was just called up from the minors eight days earlier and whose previous claim to a big-league pedigree was as godson to Luis Alicea, the former Sox infielder and coach.

Back in Boston, they install pillories on the Common for managers who make those kinds of fate-defying decisions. The Sox dugout was more than happy to match up righty Burke Badenhop, whom they'd summoned to face the right-handed hitting Rodriguez, against a lefty-hitting career minor leaguer. Instead, Figueroa, playing in only his fourth big-league game, flared a ball into some vacant acreage in right-center field, easily scoring Jennings.

The Rays danced in the outfield, which is where Figueroa led his teammates on a merry chase. The Sox were left with folks picking at the scab of another rough loss, which on the official ledger was charged to reliever Andrew Miller, whose one misstep was to miss wide on a full-count pitch to Jennings with one out in the ninth after squelching a Rays rustling in the eighth.

Miller, incredibly, was charged with his third walk-off loss in a span of 10 days, having endured sudden death twice last week in Minnesota. The win, meanwhile, went to one Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had gone so long between wins -- two years and nearly 10 months -- he was known by a different name, Leo Nunez, for his last one.

And the defeat, as deflating as they come, wasn't even the worst part of the night. Shane Victorino strained his right hamstring again in the ninth inning, and while manager John Farrell expressed the hope that the injury wasn't as bad as the one that made Victorino a ghost for the first three weeks of the season, his track record suggests that he may be limping back onto the disabled list.

"Preliminary, it doesn't appear as severe as spring training," Farrell said. "We'll get a better read tomorrow."

[+] EnlargeBurke Badenhop
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDesmond Jennings was able to steal second base in the ninth inning despite Burke Badenhop's pitchout.
Most of the postmortems Friday night revolved around Boston's failed bunt in the ninth, and the failed pitchout in the bottom of the inning. The bunt was called after A.J. Pierzynski opened the ninth with a single off Oviedo. Victorino got the bunt down, to the left of the mound, but a charging third baseman Evan Longoria was able to throw out Pierzynski before he even appeared in the frame on your TV.

Farrell said he didn't want to run for Pierzynski there, because he was anticipating he might need to use Jonathan Herrera in another situation. The Penn Relays, perhaps? Reporters, present company included, did not press him on the matter.

Pierzynski, meanwhile, sounded bemused about being quizzed on the play -- why, for example, he didn't slide into second base.

"We know Longo is very aggressive," Pierzynski said. "[Victorino] made a good bunt, but it wasn't perfect. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with a lot of speed. I did the best I could. I had a good jump, secondary lead, but unfortunately it didn't work out.

"I tried to get there as fast as I could. At the end of the day, I'm out if I slide or not. I was trying to get there as fast as I could."

The pitchout? Pierzynski said he hadn't looked at the play after the game, and when he does, he might discover it wasn't quite as clockwork as he thought it was. Badenhop said he thought his pitch might have sailed a bit on the Sox catcher.

"I thought we had a decent shot," Badenhop said. "I watched it again, and even if I hit [Pierzynski] in the chest, and he makes a perfect throw, it's probably bang-bang."

Instead, it was bang-bang, the Sox were near dead. Jennings got to second easily.

"It was right over the bag, chest-high," Pierzynski said of his throw, which pulled shortstop Xander Bogaerts toward first base. "If I put it on the bag, he's still safe. He's just fast. What can you do? Everything worked, he just beat it. What else can you say?"

The scrutiny grows exponentially, of course, during a long losing streak. Even the tiniest mistakes are saddled with more weight than they should be asked to bear. More so when it's the defending World Series champions.

Among other things, Badenhop bemoaned that the hit he gave up to Figueroa pinned another excruciating defeat on Miller, his best friend in baseball. And wouldn't you know, the outfield was swung around toward left against Figueroa, who was looking for a pitch to run inside and got enough of it to deliver his winning hit. Had they been playing straight up, Badenhop said Grady Sizemore told him, they might have had a play. But those are the things that seem to conspire against you when you're losing.

"A game like that," Badenhop said, "you can only walk the tightrope so long."

No magic for Lackey vs. Detroit this time

May, 17, 2014
May 17
BOSTON -- On a mid-October night in Detroit last year, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey dominated a lineup featuring star hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.

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.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
AP Photo/Michael DwyerJohn Lackey struggled through perhaps his worst outing of the season Saturday, giving up six runs (five earned) and taking the loss against the Tigers.
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).

Rapid Reaction: Tigers 6, Red Sox 1

May, 17, 2014
May 17

BOSTON -- One of the best teams in baseball is in town this weekend for a critical series, and Friday night, against reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, the Red Sox could barely get off the runway.

Saturday night, they couldn't get out of second gear. The Red Sox dropped their second straight game to the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers, a 6-1 loss in which Boston produced seven hits with almost nothing to show for them.

While starter John Lackey had some good moments -- particularly the fourth inning, in which he worked in his curve fluidly to ring up Nick Castellanos and Andrew Romine on strikes -- this will go down as another forgettable night. He allowed nine hits and six runs (five earned) in 5⅓ innings, fanning four and walking two on 96 pitches (70 for strikes) and taking the loss to fall to 5-3.

Lackey's counterpart, Rick Porcello, kept Sox batters at bay with his arsenal of curves, sliders and four-seamers, striking out four in eight innings, scattering six hits and allowing just one earned run. He threw 110 pitches, 71 for strikes, and improved to 7-1.

The Tigers got to work on Lackey early in the second, with Victor Martinez leading off by singling through a shift. Austin Jackson then worked a 10-pitch walk after starting the at-bat down 0-2, and he was moved to second on a Castellanos base hit through the left side. Dustin Pedroia made a quick-twitch snag of Alex Avila's grounder at second, but Avila beat out Xander Bogaerts' double-play relay to first to keep the inning alive and score Martinez. Lackey settled down after that, striking out Romine on a fastball-curve-slider sequence, then getting Rajai Davis to fly out to center.

In the third, Miguel Cabrera sat red and took Lackey's 94 mph four-seamer opposite field, slicing it around Pesky's Pole for a solo home run and 2-0 lead.

The Tigers got two more in the fifth, first with Hunter scoring Ian Kinsler from second on a liner down the third-base line, then Cabrera scoring Hunter with a double deep to left-center. That was followed by two more runs in the top of the sixth that ultimately ended Lackey's night -- a Davis RBI double off the Green Monster, then a Kinsler sacrifice fly to score Davis.

Cabrera -- who came into Saturday's game with a .333/.385/.667 career slash line against Lackey -- finished the night 3-for-5 with two RBIs, one strikeout and one run.

Sox stranded: The Sox failed to produce any run support for Lackey, stranding 12 runners. Their best chance was in the fourth, when they loaded up the bases. David Ortiz hit a liner off the Green Monster, then Mike Napoli knocked a bloop hit to shallow center. After Mike Carp drew a five-pitch walk, A.J. Pierzynski dribbled Porcello's third pitch -- a 92 mph four-seamer -- into a 4-3 putout to end the rally before it started.

In the ninth, Napoli singled to left, then moved to second on Grady Sizemore's groundout to first, but Carp grounded out to third, followed by a flyout to center by Pierzynski to end the game.

The Sox's woes weren't devoid of controversy. In the eighth, Shane Victorino hit a dribbler down the first-base line but was called out on batter's interference, leading Red Sox manager John Farrell to leave the dugout to protest the call to no avail.

Bogaerts' blast a bright spot: Sandwiched between the outpour of Tigers runs was a powerful solo shot from Bogaerts, who planted Porcello's 89 mph four-seamer in the third row of Green Monster seats for his second homer of the season. Bogaerts finished 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Holt takes hot corner, Victorino returns: Wearing a brace on his left knee, Victorino returned to the lineup after missing Friday night's contest. He finished 1-for-5 with an RBI and a strikeout. Brock Holt was called up to take over third base for Will Middlebrooks, who was placed on the disabled list with a nondisplaced fracture in his right middle finger. Holt finished 0-for-2 with a walk.

Lackey again rides high in Texas

May, 11, 2014
May 11

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.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsJohn Lackey's quick pace and aggressive style has been a good fit with catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
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.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 5, Rangers 2

May, 11, 2014
May 11

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Red Sox got on the right side of .500 for the first time since the opening week of the season with a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday, improving to 19-18.

The win also gave the Sox their third straight series win.

Boston has Monday off before beginning a three-game set in Minnesota.

Lackey feels at home -- Red Sox starter John Lackey looked very comfortable on the mound at Globe Life Park. He should have -- it was his 20th start in Arlington, the city where he played his college baseball at the University of Texas at Arlington. Lackey went seven innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out nine. It was his sixth outing this year in which he's allowed two or fewer runs and the third with no walks. The win moves Lackey to 5-2 on the season and puts him a game over .500 lifetime against the Rangers in Arlington at 8-7.

Return of Uehara -- Sox closer Koji Uehara saw his first action since his save against Cincinnati last Wednesday, picking up his ninth save of the season in short work. Uehara got Alex Rios to ground out and took care of the rest himself, striking out DH Mitch Moreland and pinch hitter Michael Choice, both looking. He his now 9-for-9 on the season in save opportunities.

Napoli makes them pay -- Rangers manager Ron Washington elected to intentionally walk Red Sox DH David Ortiz in the first inning with one out and Dustin Pedroia on third in favor of one of his former players, Mike Napoli. In the second pitch of his at-bat, Napoli doubled off the right-field wall, scoring Pedroia. Napoli and Ortiz both came home one batter later on a single by another former Ranger, catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Snubbing a former teammate -- Napoli followed his clutch hit in the first with a fine defensive play to end the sixth. With two outs, Napoli had to contend with the sun and the wall down the first-base line but snagged a foul pop by former teammate Adrian Beltre. Just after making the catch, Napoli rocked over the wall, leaning into the crowd before displaying his glove with ball inside.

Pedroia reboots -- After a stretch from the third into the seventh inning that saw the Sox collect just one hit of Rangers starter Robbie Ross Jr., Pedroia again was Boston’s offensive spark, drilling a solo home run, his second of the season, into the visitors bullpen on a full count. Before Friday’s game, manager John Farrell lauded Pedroia’s selflessness moving into the leadoff spot for the good of the team and, in turn, truly becoming the catalyst for everything the Red Sox offense does.