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Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 7

Sox fall in hole

Lackey puts them in big bind in loss

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 5, 2011

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There have been some regrettable days in Red Sox history, selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees on Jan. 3, 1920 first among them. But in more recent years, Dec. 16, 2009 is tough to top.

It was on that day, during two separate news conferences, that the Red Sox introduced new free agents John Lackey and Mike Cameron. The team was so pleased that it held the events in the tony EMC Club, eschewing the small interview room above the clubhouse.

The Sox designated Cameron for assignment on Thursday, acknowledging that his signing was a mistake. But finding a way to solve their predicament with Lackey will not be so simple.

The boos at Fenway Park were as loud as bass drums on the Esplanade yester day as Lackey was pulled in the third inning after giving up seven runs. That the Red Sox made the game interesting before losing, 9-7, could not obscure the growing problem with Lackey.

It was the fourth time in 13 starts this season that Lackey (5-8) has allowed at least seven earned runs. Only Fausto Carmona of Cleveland can match that dubious achievement and he has made 18 starts.

Among major league pitchers with at least 70 innings this season, Lackey has the highest earned run average by more than a run at 7.47. His ERA in seven starts at Fenway is 9.17.

Lackey is 19-19 with a 5.16 ERA since signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal. The Sox are 21-25 in the games he has started, with yesterday marking his shortest outing with the team.

Lackey also has lost three consecutive starts for the second time this season, a first in his 10-year career.

None of the options are appealing at this point. The Sox can leave Lackey in the rotation and hope he can pitch to at least a serviceable level. They can move him into the bullpen, a job he has virtually no experience doing. Or they can return him to the disabled list, citing an ongoing elbow issue.

Releasing Lackey with $53.38 million remaining on his deal is not a realistic solution given his track record and the fact that he is only 32.

Lackey’s answer is to keep taking the mound every five days.

“Just continue to work hard. I’ve made a lot of adjustments, kind of on the fly,’’ he said. “Some of those will hopefully turn into some results here soon.

“I’ve felt a lot better since coming off the DL. I’ve pitched some good games and lost and obviously had some pretty rough ones.’’

Lackey gave up nine hits, four for extra bases, before manager Terry Francona came to get him. The Sox were hoping Lackey had turned a corner after giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings against Philadelphia last week. Instead it was another setback.

Lackey was missing the good slider he showed against the Phillies and left his fastball over the plate. His velocity was normal, but his pitches had little movement within the strike zone.

“I don’t think you ever evaluate 10 minutes after a game, because that’s dangerous,’’ Francona said. “We’ll try to figure it out.’’

Rajai Davis tortured the Red Sox defense in the top of the first inning.

He hit the third pitch of the game into shallow left field for a double. With one out and Jose Bautista up, Dustin Pedroia went to second base and called for a throw from Lackey.

When Davis started back to the bag, Pedroia backed off and waved at Lackey to pitch. Seeing that, Davis took off for third. As he slid in safely, an accurate throw from Jarrod Saltalamacchia got away from Kevin Youkilis and Davis scored. Youkilis was charged with an error.

The next six runs were on Lackey. Aaron Hill had a solo home run and John McDonald an RBI single in the second inning.

Adam Lind and Hill had RBI singles in the third before Travis Snider dropped a two-run double into right field.

“There was some hard contact,’’ Francona said.

Lackey has a 9.95 ERA in seven starts against the Blue Jays since joining the Sox, 12.00 in three starts this season.

“Overall, my arm felt pretty good,’’ Lackey said. “Probably one of the better ones it’s felt as far as velocity and stuff like that. Just didn’t locate well enough.

“I gave up some soft ones that fell in on some good pitches and had some bad pitches that got hit hard.’’

The Red Sox weren’t duds. Jacoby Ellsbury (4 for 5) had a two-run triple in the fifth, then scored on a passed ball. Adrian Gonzalez then drew the Sox closer with an RBI double.

“From an offensive standpoint, these are the types of games where we have nine innings to put a run together,’’ Ellsbury said. “I thought we did a very good job of battling back and putting ourselves in a position to win the game.’’

The Sox scored three more in the eighth, two on a triple by Saltalamacchia. David Ortiz scored one of the runs, having snapped an 0-for-23 skid with a double.

Ellsbury singled off Toronto closer Frank Francisco in the ninth, bringing the tying run to the plate three times. But Francisco struck out the side from there.

The Sox bullpen pitched well, allowing two runs, one earned. But it needed to be perfect after the mess Lackey left.

“We actually had a chance,’’ Francona said. “But that’s a tough way to win when they score that much early.’’

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

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