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Lackey lacked only support

Righthander still shows consistency

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2011

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It didn’t feel much different from any of John Lackey’s recent starts.

Yesterday, the Red Sox righthander surrendered four runs (three earned) over 6 2/3 innings.

In his previous four starts, he’d given up three, five, three, and four earned runs.

Talk about consistency.

“He’s been giving us about the same every time out,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “On a lot of nights, that’s plenty good enough for us to win.’’

And that’s where the difference lies. In Lackey’s previous four starts, he got three wins and a no-decision. Yesterday, he got pegged with a 4-0 loss against Tampa Bay.

Even though the loss snapped a career-high six-game win streak and dropped his record to 11-9, Lackey wasn’t discouraged.

“I felt great,’’ he said. “Honestly, I’d probably take one pitch back from the whole thing.’’

It was the changeup he threw to B.J. Upton that resulted in a home run over the Green Monster for a 2-0 Rays lead in the third inning.

“I’d thrown four straight fastballs pretty much by him,’’ Lackey said. “Then, I kind of tried to trick him. Didn’t work out so well.’’

Upton’s homer gave Rays starter David Price some breathing room, as did a fifth-inning solo shot by Evan Longoria. Ben Zobrist pushed the lead to four runs with a double off the Monster in the seventh that knocked Lackey out of the game.

The runs were scattered, and in each situation, the damage could have been worse. Lackey threw 125 pitches, the second-most in his career.

“He had to battle and battle,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “His pitch count was going up quick. They kept fouling balls off.

“John’s not a ground ball pitcher. He’s got to go after guys. His strikeouts are going to be up there, and he’s not going to get a lot of double plays. We’ve got to get the guys.’’

Of course, Lackey has had similar starts lately - minus the high pitch count and resulting loss - so what he’s doing on the mound has been working.

The offense shouldered a lot of the blame for the loss, just the eighth time this season the Sox were shut out.

Entering yesterday’s game, the Red Sox were batting .278, second-best in the majors. They’ve averaged more than five runs a game. So an average offensive day yesterday would have given Lackey a win.

“There’s nothing you can really do about it when you don’t score any runs - you can’t get a win,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “Our pitchers are going out there trying to do their jobs. As hitters, we want to do our jobs. Both have to click in order for us to win games.

“Pitching’s been doing a great job. We just have to go out there and score some runs.’’

The reliance on the part of the game that’s out of the pitcher’s control - offense - is what makes a pitcher’s record so interesting. It’s also why neither Francona nor Lackey seemed overly concerned about Lackey’s performance yesterday.

The bigger picture? Lackey is 9-3 since coming off the disabled list in early June, and the Red Sox admire his consistency.

It’s especially valuable on a staff with a few injured starting pitchers - and it gives Lackey confidence heading into the final stretch.

“I feel good about where I’m at physically,’’ Lackey said. “I’ve got pretty good life with my fastball and my other pitches. Moving forward, I like my chances.’’

Nicole Auerbach can be reached at nauerbach@globe.com.

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