Lackey nearly makes history in clincher

Lackey nearly makes history in clincher
September 19, 2013, 11:45 pm
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BOSTON – The Red Sox needed a win to clinch their first play-off spot since 2009. John Lackey delivered that and very nearly delivered a game for the ages, too.
 
Instead, the Orioles Adam Jones crushed an 0-and-1 pitch from Lackey over the Green Monster with one out in the seventh inning. It was the first hit and only run Lackey allowed.
 
Still, it did not detract from the gem he pitched against the O’s on Thursday night at Fenway Park, a two-hitter in a 3-1 victory that launched the Sox into the playoffs for the first time in the last four seasons.
 
“John Lackey, just an outstanding ballgame,” said manager John Farrell. “And the remake of John Lackey, both physically and getting back on the mound and performing as he’s done all year mirrors that of this team. It’s been a remake and it’s somewhat fitting that to clinch a spot to get into the playoffs is with him on the mound and to go nine innings the way he did, like I said, very fitting.”
 
For Lackey, who sat out last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, it will also be his first time back to the postseason since 2009, when he helped the Angels sweep the Sox out of the ALDS before losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.
 
"There's definitely some satisfaction for sure,” he said. “Just with the injury and other stuff, to get back to the playoffs and get back to the way I can pitch has been fun.”
 
The Sox did not celebrate after the game, deferring a party until they can clinch the American League East.
 
"We still got some other goals ahead of us,” Lackey said. “And hopefully here in the next night or two we can get a party going."
 
The Red Sox took a three-run lead in the second off Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who has been tough on the Sox this season. Stephen Drew’s one-out, two-run home run scored Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who led off the inning with a double, and Dustin Pedroia’s single scored Jackie Bradley, who had doubled.
 
Still, the story of the game was Lackey, who struck out eight with two walks, improving to 10-12, with a 3.44 ERA. He gave up two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts. Lackey is 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA, giving up 25 earned runs over 91 innings, at Fenway this season.
 
"He went to his fastball a lot early, located down in the zone,” said Saltalamacchia. “A real aggressive team so the key is just to stay down in the zone.
 
"He's pitched against these guys so much that you try not to get into a pattern but you kind of want to stick with what works," Saltalamacchia said. "He was just locating the fastball so well. They couldn’t get any good wood on it. ... He was just awesome tonight."
 
Lackey threw 113 pitches, 82 for strikes, an impressive 72.5 percent.
 
"All year long he’s pitched great but I think tonight as far as fastball command keeping the ball down in the zone throughout the game, yeah, that was probably his best game,” Saltalamacchia said. “He's the kind of guy that comes out throwing as hard as he can from the get go and doesn't let up."
 
Before Jones’ home run, Lackey had allowed just two baserunners, both on two-out walks – Brian Roberts in the in the third and Nate McLouth in the sixth.  J.J. Hardy’s eight-inning single was the only other hit Lackey allowed.
 
“He had such a good fastball,” Farrell said. “I think the first 24, 25 pitches he threw were all fastballs. And he stayed out of the middle of the plate. I think one time I looked up he was throwing in the fourth inning he was throwing like 75, 77 percent strikes. And it was just very good fastball command. A  lot of strikes. He walked Roberts for the first base runner but he stayed out of the middle of the plate. He showed very good conviction, maintained his stuff thru the full nine innings. They were aggressive early. That allowed him to be so efficient. But there was no doubt that he was going to walk back out there for the ninth.”
 
It was Lackey’s 16th career complete game, and second this season along with an eight-inning loss against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Aug. 23.  It was his first complete-game win as a member of the Sox.
 
“The story was Lackey. It’s one of those tip-your-hat nights,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
 
“Most people aren’t able to cut the ball with that velocity. He had a little extra tonight. I think their gun’s probably a mile-an-hour too fast compared to the rest of the league," Showalter said. "I know we’ve got some guys throwing velocity they haven’t thrown all year. But to be able to throw that velocity with that cutter, he had late life the whole night and had great command. Since his surgery and gotten healthy and everything, he’s been quite a force for them.”
 
The longest Lackey has taken a no-hitter was 8 1/3 innings against the Red Sox on July 29, 2008, at Fenway Park, when Pedroia’s single broke up his bid. He was trying to avoid thoughts of a no-hitter in this game.
 
"I didn't get that far ahead,” he said. “I felt pretty good. I was locating my fastball and had a little bit on it. My arm felt good.
 
“We were just trying to win a game, especially in a 3-0 game you can’t get too far ahead of yourself with their lineup. That can get out of hand pretty quick.
 
"It was fun," Lackey said. "Things lined up for me good tonight"
 
While Lackey was trying not to think of a no-no, others couldn’t help that.
 
“I think when you get into those last three innings everyone in the ballpark or anyone that’s following the game is aware that he had a no-hitter going at the time,” Farrell said. “Unfortunately the breaking ball [to Jones] doesn’t get to the spot where he’s looking to go to. But, yeah, it had the makings of something special. But in the end it was still special, given the significance of tonight’s  win and the fact that he goes  complete game and the John Lackey story continues after what he’s come through.”