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Red Sox 9, A's 4

Lackey is lacking again, but Sox pick up the slack

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / June 2, 2010

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After John Lackey walked off the mound at the end of the sixth inning last night, Victor Martinez made sure to give a little verbal boost to his pitcher. The catcher knew how hard Lackey had worked, how many pitches he’d had to throw just to keep his teammates in a game that could have spun out of control. He knew how many runners had reached for the A’s, how many Lackey had kept from scoring. So Martinez made him a little promise.

“He told me to hang in there, said he was going to take care of me,’’ Lackey said. “He did. It was pretty cool.

With the Sox trailing, 4-3, after having been down 4-0, they got two in their half of the sixth, Martinez hitting an RBI ground-rule double after a run had scored when Dustin Pedroia hit into a double play. Boston was finally ahead, 5-4, and ended up scoring nine unanswered runs in a 9-4 win over Oakland in front of 37,337 at Fenway Park.

Martinez, who had four doubles among his five hits and two RBIs, “swung the bat great,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, and didn’t panic, didn’t get frustrated.’’

Well, Lackey did.

“Honestly, it’s a little frustrating, ’cause I thought I did better than what some of the numbers are going to show,’’ said Lackey, who is now 6-3. “We won the game, so who really cares?’’

That might be simplifying some of the struggles the starter has had this season. Though he ranks among the league leaders in wins, they sometimes have come despite him. He again put on too many runners (14) in too few innings (six), but he still somehow got the victory. Even with Lackey’s 4.95 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, he has been able to keep his team in games, and win some it seems he shouldn’t.

“I pitch to contact and I haven’t had the greatest luck with some of that,’’ Lackey said. “I’ve had a lot of balls on the ground that have gotten through, a few balls kind of fell in tonight. I’m winning games right now. I’m not quite pitching up to where I can be, so that’s kind of nice.’’

Entering last night’s game, it seemed as if Lackey would have the advantage, having gone 16-4 with a 2.76 ERA in his career against the A’s. That had to count for something, right?

Not early on, as Lackey allowed two runs in the third (on a Daric Barton homer into the visitors’ bullpen) and two in the fifth (on an RBI single by Jack Cust and an RBI double by Mark Ellis). But just as important were the innings in which he didn’t give up runs. Lackey got out of a jam in the fourth in which the A’s had the bases loaded with no outs on consecutive doubles by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Gabe Gross and a walk to Ellis.

He got Cliff Pennington to ground into a force at home started by third baseman Adrian Beltre, and then Rajai Davis sent a shallow pop to center that was caught. Barton then popped to second.

And with two on and one out in the sixth, Lackey got Kurt Suzuki to fly to center and Cust to ground to first on a changeup, his final pitch of the game.

“You can look at numbers and we certainly do in preparation,’’ Francona said. “But I don’t know that you can measure a guy’s willingness to compete or the ability to make pitches with the game on the line or to want to be out there making pitches. You can tell he wants to be right in the middle of that. Everybody in that dugout, including myself, thinks he’s going to figure out a way to get people out.’’

Added Martinez, “Lackey, obviously, he didn’t bring his best stuff. But he’s a warrior. He just hangs in there for us, and gives us a pretty good chance to win this ballgame.’’

Though the Sox started slowly against Gio Gonzalez, things picked up in the fifth. With Martinez on second after a double and Kevin Youkilis (infield hit) on first with one out, third base umpire Doug Eddings made what appeared to be a bad call, ruling David Ortiz didn’t check his swing on a strikeout. With two outs it was up to Beltre, and he slammed a three-run shot over the Green Monster to bring the Sox within one.

“Never quit,’’ Martinez said. “We never quit. We are going to go out there and keep playing our game, and keep putting some pressure. We always play one through nine, no matter what.’’

They added those two in the sixth, and broke it open in the seventh and eighth. They produced their nine runs on 14 hits, giving Lackey more than enough support. And though the pitcher is grinding his way through wins, he believes there’s better pitching from him yet to come.

“In my career I’ve always gotten on a run, and I haven’t gotten on that run yet,’’ Lackey said. “For the most part, I’ve left the game with us having a chance to win so far. Not always because I pitched great. Guy have swung the bats well for me, too. There’s definitely been a little bit of both.

“But, you know, I’ll get on my run, and I’ll give a little bit back to those boys maybe on some day that they don’t swing it quite as well.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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