Saturday, September 11, 2010
John Lackey lacking execution
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's all about execution, Boston Red Sox pitchers repeat over and over, a mantra they inherited from Josh Beckett and have reinforced daily by pitching coach John Farrell.
The meaning, for those the least bit uncertain, is spelled out this way on Dictionary.com:
1. The act or process of executing.
2. The state or fact of being executed.
Regrettably for Sox pitcher John Lackey, he's opted for curtain No. 2 far too often this season.
John Lackey lost the lead in the seventh inning Saturday, giving up three runs to the Athletics.
Like Saturday night in the Oakland-Alameda County mausoleum, when Lackey breezed into the seventh inning throwing a two-hit shutout and departed three outs later faced with another maddening outcome, a 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics. It was Lackey's fifth loss in his past six decisions, dropping his record to 12-10 even as he lowered his ERA to 4.45.
Lackey, sabotaged in part by a pointless throwing error by left fielder Bill Hall that put the tying run in scoring position, was deserted by his previously pinpoint command at the worst possible moment.
He arranged for his own demise by throwing meatballs to Mark Ellis (game-tying single) and Rajai Davis (go-ahead triple) in Oakland's three-run seventh. The Athletics tacked on another run in the eighth off a wild Daniel Bard (four walks in two-thirds of an inning), ex-Sox speedster Coco Crisp creating some chaos by igniting (that word again) a double steal before an RBI single by Jack Cust. That proved to be the difference when a Sox rally in the ninth fell short.
"I was throwing everything for a strike, moving along pretty well, [then] a couple bad pitches in one inning,'' Lackey said. "Honestly, I think I could pitch the exact same next year and have totally different results.''
Lackey noted that the Sox can hardly afford to make mistakes like the ones that cost them the game Saturday. Does that lead him to try to throw a perfect pitch instead of just executing like he normally would?
"No,'' he said. "I played for a team [the Angels] that played small ball and was in a lot of close games. So I'm used to that.''
Two-out doubles by Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre off Oakland closer Andrew Bailey in the ninth drew the Sox within a run and brought David Ortiz to the plate as a pinch hitter for Mike Lowell.
Ortiz, hitless in three previous pinch-hit appearances this season, took a full-count third strike to end it.
The Sox had grabbed a 2-0 lead on a home run by former Athletics utility man Marco Scutaro, his 11th of the season and fourth in eight games, and an RBI single by Ryan Kalish, but otherwise were 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position and have scored a total of three runs in two nights here.
Lackey, who came into the game 5-0 against teams in the AL West, the division he previously inhabited with the Angels, faced only 19 batters, one over the minimum, through the first six innings.
Former Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida doubled with two out in the second to become Oakland's first baserunner. Ellis became the second when he singled to lead off the fifth, but was erased when Hermida hit into a double play.
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But Daric Barton opened the seventh with a double, and one out later, Cust grounded a single through the left side. The on-charging Hall bobbled the ball momentarily but still threw home with little chance at Barton. When his throw was wide, Cust advanced into scoring position on the error.
Lackey, his face a grid of disgust and disappointment, left a pitch over the middle that Ellis lined to center for a single to score Cust to tie the game at 2, and Davis followed by launching a drive to the track in center over a leaping Kalish.
Francona bemoaned the inability of the Sox offense to add more runs against A's starter Brett Anderson and two relievers. The Sox, who left 11 on base, loaded the bases on three singles in the first and failed to score, and wasted leadoff doubles by Kalish (in the fifth) and Darnell McDonald (in the seventh).
"If we had tacked on,'' Francona said, "we'd have been talking about how well [Lackey] pitched, even though he gave up a couple late.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.