Rusty Lackey just sharp enough to dice Rays

Rusty Lackey just sharp enough to dice Rays
October 6, 2013, 12:00 am
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BOSTON – John Lackey may not have been at his sharpest, but against the struggling Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS, he didn’t have to be, as the Red Sox won, 7-4, at Fenway Park Saturday to take a two-game lead in the best-of five series.
Lackey went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts and a hit batter.
He allowed the lead-off batter to reach base in five of the six frames he started, with three scoring.
“He battled with less than his best stuff,” said one scout in attendance.
But the Rays could not put together any kind of sustained offense.
His command issues could have been from his extended layoff. Lackey had not pitched in a game since Sept. 24.
“Maybe a little bit, yeah,” Lackey said. “There was definitely ‑‑ I thought my stuff felt pretty good, as far as the spinning the breaking ball.  But the command just kind of was hit or miss for pretty much the whole time I was out there.”
“I thought in the first inning it might have had some effect to it,” said manager John Farrell. “He pulled some fastballs off the plate to some right‑handers where he fell behind in the count.  They pressed him.  Tonight was a blue-collar night on the mound.  He gave us everything he had.  Fortunately we were able to give him a little bit of cushion, where he wasn't making every pitch with his back against the wall.  But John is such a strong competitor.”
The Sox offense gave Lackey a two-run lead in the first, but he gave a run back the next inning. In the third, the Sox added two more runs, giving Lackey more of a cushion to work with.

Lackey walked Rays lead-off batter David DeJesus on five pitches to start the game, before getting Wil Myers – Fenway’s new favorite whipping boy – to strike out. James Loney then singled, but Evan Longoria – who entered the game hitting .323, going 10-for-31, with two home runs against Lackey – hit into a double play to end the inning. It was one of three double plays the Sox turned in the game, all to end innings.
He gave up a run in the second when Ben Zobrist led off with a walk, taking third on Desmond Jennings’ single and scoring on Delmon Young’s sacrifice fly.
His first 1-2-3 inning was the third, when he struck out DeJesus, swinging at a curveball, retired Myers on a comebacker, and struck out Loney, swinging at another curve.
Lackey allowed two runs in the fifth, when the Rays sent seven batters to the plate.  Yunel Escobar led off with a double. With one out, Lackey hit DeJesus with a pitch, and with two outs, gave up a two-run double to Loney. But, after walking Evan Longoria, he struck out Zobrist, in a seven-pitch at-bat, looking at a fastball.  Lackey pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.
He gave up another run in the sixth when Jennings led off with a single, taking second n Young’s groundout and scoring on Escobar’s single to right, ending Lackey’s outing. But the Sox bullpen shut down the Rays after that.
Three of Lackey’s six strikeouts came on fastballs, two on curveballs, and one on a slider.
“A lot of fastball. He likes to pitch backwards,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “I think he was doing that a little bit today with the early breaking ball and then a lot more fastball in the latter part.  I thought he had a good fastball.  That's the difference between him now and when he was hurt.  The velocity is back.  And not only the velocity, the cutter, slider, curveball play.  I thought he was very challenging.  Challenging in that he challenged us.”
And Lackey gave the Rays opportunities, but they failed to capitalize.  Longoria said Lackey made big pitches when he needed to – especially the rally-killing double play in the first inning, changing the tempo of the game, and striking out Zobrist in the fifth.
“We got him on the ropes a couple times, but he made those big pitches,” Longoria said. “It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to tip your cap to him.”
Lackey was working with catcher David Ross for just the third time this season, and the first since since May 9.  Lackey is known to be slow to the plate – more than 1.4 seconds in his delivery, among the slowest in the major leagues. Although the Rays had more stolen bases this season than only three other American League teams, Ross’ ability to call a game and to control the running game got him the start in this game. The Rays had just one stolen base in the game.
“He was great for me tonight,” Lackey said. “I was kind of struggling with command a little bit, and he was definitely ‑‑ we had to change up the pitch selection and get me back into it.  And we kind of grinded through that one.

It was the first postseason start with the Red Sox for Lackey since joining the team as a free agent before the 2010 season.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The atmosphere out there was unbelievable. The people were going crazy. And I guess when I struck Zobrist out to get out of that jam, it was a fun place to be, for sure.”