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Tough sixth inning dooms this Lackey mission

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 5, 2011

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John Lackey hasn’t justified his $82.5 million contract, a mission that probably never will be accomplished. But for seven weeks this summer, his pitching helped stabilize the Red Sox rotation.

The righthander had won seven games, compiling a 4.11 ERA, just slightly above the league average. Lackey had even heard cheers from the fans at Fenway Park who wanted him run out of town in the spring.

That ended yesterday against the Texas Rangers.

Lackey couldn’t get an out in the sixth inning as the Red Sox were slammed, 11-4. He gave up six runs on eight hits with three walks and a strikeout.

Lackey also hit a batter, giving him 18 on the season. He leads the majors in that category and is two away from tying the franchise record held by Bronson Arroyo (2004) and Howard Ehmke (1923).

“It was a rough day for him,’’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.

Lackey (12-11, 6.11 ERA) did his job for five innings, holding Texas to two runs on five hits. The Sox were down, 2-0, still very much in the game.

But the sixth inning quickly got away from Lackey. Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, and David Murphy had consecutive singles to make it 3-0. After a wild pitch, Mike Napoli walked and Terry Francona came out of the dugout to take Lackey out after 103 pitches.

“Things kind of went south pretty quick,’’ Lackey said.

Felix Doubront inherited three runners and all scored. Mitch Moreland had a single, Estaban German walked, and Ian Kinsler delivered a sacrifice fly to produce the runs.

Another walk and a three-run triple by Josh Hamilton put the game out of reach as Texas led, 9-0. The crowd then booed the rookie lefty who was called up Thursday.

“I left three runners out there with nobody out. Felix came in there in a tough spot, especially for a young kid,’’ Lackey said. “To get booed after that, for a young kid, that’s pretty . . . you know. He’s going to do a lot of good things here. I felt bad for him.’’

Said manager Terry Francona: “It unraveled.’’

That the end of Lackey’s solid streak came against the Rangers was no surprise. He is 12-14 with a 6.16 ERA in 36 career starts against them. No team has hit Lackey harder.

In three starts against Texas this season, Lackey has given up 19 earned runs on 25 hits over 15 1/3 innings. The Red Sox do not play the Rangers again but could face them in the AL Division Series. If so, Lackey’s next start against Texas could be at Fenway in Game 3 or Game 4 of that series.

Gulp.

“I don’t have a whole lot of tricks left,’’ Lackey said. “You try to change sequences. They’ve got a good lineup, man. They’re tough. They definitely worked me, got my pitch count up quite a bit.’’

Francona felt the hard work Lackey had to do to survive the early innings led to the decisive sixth.

“[The Rangers] are so good. If you elevate or if you throw a breaking ball that doesn’t have some bite to it, man, they’re all over it,’’ he said.

Still, Lackey’s job is to find a way around that familiarity.

“There’s a lot of history there and there’s a lot of guys who have some pretty good numbers. That doesn’t mean he can’t beat them. But they work you pretty good. They’re a good team,’’ said Francona.

Lackey was asked what his expectations were.

“To win,’’ he said. “That’s what they always are. Damn thing doesn’t change this time of year. I’m going to go out there and compete my [behind] off and see what happens.’’

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

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