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Battling Lackey hung in there

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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Given the way he was roughed up last weekend in Texas, John Lackey wasn’t looking for atonement yesterday as much as he was looking to make a quality start.

Although the righthander may not have pitched as well as he would have liked in the Red Sox’ 9-6 victory in their home opener, Lackey pitched well enough to outlast his New York counterpart, Phil Hughes, who departed after two innings.

Last Saturday, Lackey allowed nine runs and 10 hits — including a career-high seven extra-base hits — in 3 2/3 innings.

Yesterday, Lackey battled through five innings, allowing six runs and seven hits (the first six going for extra bases) before handing it over to the bullpen and getting his first win of the season.

“I didn’t pitch very well,’’ said Lackey, who threw 91 pitches. “The rest of the starters were talking about outlasting the other guy, but I didn’t pitch well. I hung in there long enough, I guess.’’

Said manager Terry Francona, “A lot of his pitches, it didn’t seem like he finished them, [he] left them in the middle. He had two walks, a hit batsman, and all three scored. Against that lineup, you got to make them earn everything they get, because they’re that good.

“Fortunately, we swung the bats well enough and our bullpen held on.’’

Francona credited Lackey’s ability to battle through to the fifth with helping set up the bullpen.

“If he comes out in the third or the fourth [inning], it’s a whole different story,’’ Francona said. “He was able to slug through it, and he always does that, I’ll say that.’’

Jonathan Papelbon, who pitched a tidy 1-2-3 ninth, agreed with the manager.

“Lack did a phenomenal job up there,’’ Papelbon said. “I felt he went out there and he had some situations he had to get out of, and he did it. He stood in there and fought as long as he could to get it to us. And the guys in the bullpen take pride in holding those games for our starters.’’

Lackey, though, was hoping to do more than just make it through the fifth.

“I don’t set my goals that low,’’ he said. “I definitely want to do better than that.’’

Lackey got off to a shaky start in the fifth when he served up a fastball away to Alex Rodriguez, who tattooed it for a homer that tied the game at 6.

“He’s just a good hitter,’’ Lackey said. “Thought he might be looking in, so I went away, and apparently he wasn’t.’’

Lackey settled down and retired Robinson Cano (grounder to second), Nick Swisher (fly to left), and Jorge Posada (fly to center) to get out of the inning. Lackey’s work was done, and the bullpen did the rest.

“Unbelievable,’’ Lackey said. “Bobby [Jenks] came out there, was a little amped up there on that first hitter, but after Curt [Young’s] trip, he really dialed it in. [Daniel] Bard looked good and Pap was tremendous. Aceves finally threw up the first zero of the game, so it was nice to get it going in the right direction.’’

But, as Lackey pointed out, the victory was the first of what fans hope will be many.

“It’s still one game,’’ he said. “You can’t say [losing] six games aren’t a big deal and then win one game and say it’s a big deal. You just got to keep grinding and play every day. But it’s one back in the right direction.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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