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Red Sox 6, A's 3

Lackey return good stuff

He gets victory as Sox sweep A’s

John Lackey’s first start after being on the disabled list was a good one: 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball in a win over the A’s. John Lackey’s first start after being on the disabled list was a good one: 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball in a win over the A’s. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 6, 2011

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The crowd of 37,796 at Fenway Park stood and cheered when John Lackey walked off the mound in the sixth inning yesterday afternoon, having pitched effectively against the Athletics in his return from the disabled list.

Lackey kept his head down as he approached the dugout, not acknowledging the tribute with a wave or tip of his cap.

After the Red Sox finished off a three-game sweep with a 6-3 victory, Lackey was told that he hadn’t heard cheers like that very often at Fenway.

“That might be an understatement,’’ he said.

In his second year with the Sox, Lackey is still struggling to cope with what he feels are outsized expectations and unduly harsh criticism. Eight years of Orange County harmony with the Angels did not remotely prepare him for the baseball mentality of Boston.

But with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the season, the Red Sox need Lackey to be a reliable member of the rotation, bruised feelings or not.

“He’s a piece of the puzzle in what we need to do to be in the playoffs,’’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “It was good to see him back out there.’’

Lackey (3-5) allowed three runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings with two strikeouts, two walks, and three hit batters. Considering he had missed 23 days with a sore elbow, the Sox were satisfied.

“Really professional game. He stayed down for the most part, threw his breaking ball, had some depth on his fastball,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “I thought that was what we hoped for.’’

Lackey had an 8.01 ERA in his first seven starts in part because of the sore elbow. A cortisone shot and an extended layoff proved useful as Lackey was able to extend his arm fully and get the usual bite on his pitches.

“It definitely felt better than it has been. My slider was definitely a little harder, a little sharper today than it has been,’’ said Lackey, now 18-6 against Oakland in his career. “Physically I’m going to feel something. It just is what it is in there. But I felt I was ready to go, ready to compete.’’

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was impressed with Lackey’s ability to get his fastball past the Oakland hitters, something that happened only on occasion earlier in the season.

“He looked healthy; he looked rested; he looked good,’’ Saltalamacchia said.

Athletics starter Brett Anderson entered 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts against the Red Sox and had shut them out for eight innings in Oakland April 19. But the lefthander lasted only five innings this time, giving up five runs on nine hits.

Carl Crawford started it with a three-run home run to right field in the second inning. That earned him a fastball up and in when he came to the plate in the next inning. The ball hit Crawford on the right hand as he tried to get out of the way.

Crawford glared at Anderson and shouted at the mound as he went to first base. Umpire Larry Vanover warned both teams.

The Sox took it out on Anderson (3-6) with their bats. Saltalamacchia (3 for 4) singled in the fourth inning and scored when Gonzalez drove a fastball into the Monster seats.

Gonzalez, who seems to embrace the atmosphere at Fenway, has 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. He is hitting .359 at home with a .981 OPS.

David Ortiz was 3 for 4 with a double and a run scored. The one out he made came on a line drive to center that former teammate Coco Crisp caught on the warning track.

Led by Ortiz, Crawford, and Gonzalez, the Red Sox lefthanded hitters worked Anderson over.

Ortiz is hitting a surprising .355 against lefthanders with four home runs and only seven strikeouts in 62 at-bats. He hit .222 against lefthanders last season with two home runs.

“I’m trying to go to the plate with an idea. It’s making sense right now,’’ said Ortiz, who explained that he is trying to go the other away against lefthanders rather than try to pull every ball to right.

“Just stay through the ball. Lefties, you have to wait for the ball to get to you with pretty much all of them,’’ he said. “I’m a pull hitter and pulling everything against lefties wasn’t working for me. We’ll see. Got a long way to go still.’’

Lackey left the mound with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth. After Matt Albers allowed an inherited runner to score, he, Tommy Hottovy, Dan Wheeler, and Daniel Bard kept the Athletics off the board. Oakland has lost a season-high six straight.

The Sox have a day off today before starting a three-game series in New York. They are a game behind the Yankees.

In what could be an exciting summer, Lackey may play a pivotal role now that he is healthy. Given how his season started, yesterday was a positive step.

“I’ve just got to get back to performing the way I can perform. Just try and handle my business,’’ he said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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