Touched up by an Angel
Lackey is in complete control against punchless Red Sox
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia talks about the effort of Angels pitcher John Lackey and his ninth-inning single that broke up the no-hit bid.
Word filtered through the ballpark about an hour before last night's game. Casey Kotchman, who had been in the lineup batting second for the Angels, was scratched. He was headed to Atlanta, with one of the biggest bats on the block (Mark Teixeira) heading to southern California.
The Angels, the class of the American League and owners of a seven-game winning streak over the Red Sox, had just gotten much better.
They already have the pitching, made abundantly clear last night as John Lackey took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, broken up by Dustin Pedroia's one-out single to left. Still, it was a decisive 6-2 victory for the Angels.
And the Red Sox are not happy. Not happy about their performance last night. Not happy about their performance of late.
"It seems like we're not playing good baseball," Pedroia said. "I think it's time to start doing that. It's not like anybody in our division's going to lose consecutive games. Everyone's playing good. It seems like we're not.
"It's a lack of doing anything. Nobody brought any energy. Nobody did anything. They killed us. It felt like we weren't even in the game."
That could partly be attributed to Lackey, who gave up virtually nothing to the Red Sox for 8 1/3 innings before Pedroia turned on a low slider and rifled it by shortstop Maicer Izturis into left field, then Kevin Youkilis followed with a two-run home run to left. Though the Yankees fell to the Orioles, 7-6, last night, the Rays defeated the Blue Jays, 3-0. The Red Sox are 4-7 since the All-Star break and are two games behind the Rays in the AL East. Not exactly the surge the Sox were anticipating with the return of David Ortiz (0 for 4) and Clay Buchholz, now 0-3 in four starts since his recall from Pawtucket.
"We can't keep going into the third game of the series trying to not get swept," Mike Lowell said. "That's not really the recipe for staying with the pack, the leaders in the division."
Asked if the team's play the last two weeks has been worrisome, Lowell said, "If we continue this way, we won't have to worry at all, because we're not going to make the playoffs."
So what does this team have to do?
"Come out and play," Pedroia said. "We've got to start playing hard and winning games. We got beat in every aspect of the game. They whupped us."
Lackey certainly did. He had been baffling, just as the opposing starter, Buchholz, had been last Sept. 1 when he pitched a no-hitter against the Orioles.
"Can't say I feel sorry for him," said Buchholz, who gave up six runs (five earned) on six hits, three walks, and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings.
Lackey (2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks) came close to duplicating Buchholz's feat. He began the ninth by striking out Jacoby Ellsbury for his fourth strikeout, bringing up Pedroia. If anyone was going to get a hit, Pedroia was a likely candidate. He went 0 for 5 Monday, snapping a streak in which he reached base safely in 29 consecutive games.
"Fastball, he threw up in the zone, when he wanted to, to elevate," manager Terry Francona said of Lackey's impressive stuff. "He threw fastball with an angle down in the zone. He threw a very good breaking ball, even in the count, behind in the count, ahead in the count. Until the very end, we didn't do anything."
There was a bit of pleading from the 38,110 at Fenway Park as fans urged the Sox to get a hit. There were sighs when Jason Varitek struck out for the second out of the eighth. There was a strange line of rustling as some fans headed for the exits when Jonathan Papelbon came in to pitch the ninth inning, the no-hitter still intact.
And there was one particularly notable chance for a hit.
With a potential infield single within sight in the seventh, Manny Ramírez jogged down the first base line. He hit the ball to the far reaches of third base territory, and with a high throw from Chone Figgins, Ramírez might have been safe. As he veered from first base, Ramirez heard the boos, perhaps some of the loudest he's received at Fenway.
The batter before, Ortiz, had just done his best, his fly ball reaching the warning track in front of the visitors' bullpen, only to be hauled in by Vladimir Guerrero. There was little else from the Sox, J.D. Drew getting hit by a pitch in the second inning and a walk to Pedroia in the sixth. No one else reached against Lackey (9-2, 2.93 ERA) over eight innings.
For the Sox, that wasn't nearly enough.
"We want to play a lot better," Lowell said. "By no means does this mean that we can't make the playoffs. But I think we've got to consistently play a better game of baseball. Today we didn't hit, but we've got to pitch a little better, we've got to play a little better defense. I think there's a lot of room for improvement for us.
"We're capable. That doesn't mean we can't make it. But we definitely don't want to wait."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.