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Lackey proves cool in the heat

His sizzling stuff stifles Rangers

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / August 24, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas - John Lackey was in his element last night.

Pitching in withering 100-degree heat, before a luxury suite full of family and friends, in a town where played collegiately, Lackey helped the Red Sox snap a five-game losing streak to the Rangers with an 11-5 victory before a crowd of 25,705 at Rangers Ballpark.

“I like hot,’’ Lackey, a native Texan, said. “But I don’t think anyone likes to pitch here, honestly. This place is pretty tough. And for a lot of reasons; the ballpark, and they’ve always had a good offense here.’’

Rangers Ballpark has been a house of horrors for Lackey, whose 6.78 ERA (66 earned runs in 87 2/3 innings) was his worst at any major league ballpark. Entering last night’s game, his 6.07 career ERA vs. the Rangers (124 earned runs in 182 innings) was his highest vs. any American League club.

And so when he was spotted a 6-0 lead after three innings, and allowed the Rangers to get back three in the third on three hits, Red Sox Nation no doubt had nightmarish flashbacks to Lackey’s checkered past here.

“I don’t think you understand about this place,’’ Lackey said. “Five or six runs is not a big enough lead in this joint.’’

It seemed only fitting Lackey, the same guy who gave up nine earned runs on 10 hits including a pair of home runs in his season-opening pratfall here April 2, would notch his 12th win of the season by recording his 12th career win vs. the Rangers, a team he had historically struggled against.

But not last night.

With the game-time temperature of 103, Lackey went 6 2/3 strong innings and allowed just four runs on seven hits, including a solo homer by Josh Hamilton in the fifth inning. The big righthander was boosted by Boston’s 14-hit barrage. He even contributed to his cause by helping turn a 1-4-3 double play that got him out of a potential mess in the sixth with one out and men on the corners.

“Lack made a great play,’’ said Dustin Pedroia, referring to the throw Lackey made from his knees after fielding a comebacker to the mound by catcher Yorvit Torrealba. “That was a big part of the game, definitely a momentum swing. Lack fields his position really well and that helps us out a ton.’’

Lackey was equally effusive in his praise of his second baseman.

“Pedey said he was behind me and would’ve had it, anyway,’’ Lackey demurred, when asked about the play. “I’m just glad that I didn’t mess it up, I guess.’’

It was Lackey’s seventh win in his last nine starts, a stretch in which he has compiled a 7-1 record and a 4.10 earned run average.

“For sure, he pitched a great game,’’ Pedroia said. “Every time Lack goes out, he battles and he keeps us in the ballgame and does a great job to help us win. Every time we know he goes out, no matter who it’s against, we’re going to get a good performance out of him.’’

So what was the big difference between his first start of the season vs. the Rangers and last night’s outing?

“Straight arm strength,’’ Lackey said. “I feel stronger and I feel like I’m executing pitches better.’’

Asked how he felt pitching in August, September, and beyond in the playoffs, Lackey smiled and replied, “Beyond is a lot of fun.

“But you can’t get too far ahead of yourself,’’ he said. “I’m feeling pretty good right now and I’m just going to stay grinding, get my workouts in, and whenever it’s my time to start, get out there and get after it.’’

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

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