BOSTON - John Lackey turned in his best start of the season, and in the process, helped the Red Sox clinch a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence.
Lackey, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, tossed a two-hitter as the Red Sox held off the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 Thursday night at Fenway Park. The victory clinched a postseason spot for the Red Sox. The team can wrap its first division title since 2007 as early as Friday night.
Lackey held the Orioles hitless through the first six innings, allowing just two walks in that span. After retiring Chris Davis for the first out of the seventh, Lackey gave up a homer to Adam Jones, ending the no-hit bid and shutout with one swing.
The only other hit off Lackey (10-12) was a one-out single by J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning. He walked two and struck out nine, pitching to four batters over the minimum.
The Red Sox scored all of their runs in the second inning. Stephen Drew swatted an opposite-field homer into the Monster Seats, scoring Jarrod Saltalamacchia (double). Consecutive doubles from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia followed and accounted for the third run.
The Sox beat Baltimore starter Chris Tillman, who had been 3-0 against them this season.
STAR OF THE GAME: John Lackey
Lackey didn't allow a baserunner until the third and didn't allow a hit until seventh, when a homer by Adam Jones ended the no-hit bid and the shutout. Still, Lackey finished with a two-hitter, one of the best outings for a Red Sox starter this season.
HONORABLE MENTION: Stephen Drew
Drew had a rough night Wednesday when he twice failed to come through in late innings with runners on base. On Thursday, he drove a two-run homer to left in the second to give Lackey all the support he would need. He later added a triple, giving him seven total bases for the night.
GOAT OF THE GAME: Chris Tillman
Tillman was 3-0 against the Red Sox before Thursday, and pitched well enough over seven innings (three runs allowed) to make that 4-0. But on a night when Lackey was better, Tillman had no room for error -- and made a few in the second inning, allowing three runs on four hits.
TURNING POINT: In the span of three batters in the second -- a double by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a strikeout by Will Middlebrooks and a homer by Drew -- the Sox had all the offense they would need.
BY THE NUMBERS: This was Lackey's second complete game of the season, but first in a winning effort. He tossed eight innings in a loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 23.
QUOTE OF NOTE: "The remake of John Lackey, both physically and getting back on the mound this 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, it's with him on the mound.'' --John Farrell.