McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

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McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- From a distance, the numbers are starting to look impressive: seven wins in the last nine outings, just one loss since July 4.

The manager sounds pleased, noting that this is the pitcher the Red Sox believed they had all along.

But that may be faint praise. Sure, John Lackey now has a dozen wins, second only to Jon Lester among all the Red Sox starters.

A closer look, however, reveals a more nuanced picture. Yes, Lackey is pitching far better than he did for most of the first two months, when four times, he allowed six or more runs in a game and seemed incapable of keeping his team in most games.

But the improvement is more marginal than anything else and Lackey's win total is more a reflection of the run support he's been provided more than any great turnaround on the pitcher's part.

As we've learned, thanks to the introduction of advanced metrics and reflected in recent Cy Young Award balloting, win totals can be both highly misleading and inflated. For starting pitchers, ERA is still the most accurate measuring stick and Lackey's current 5.98 is one of the highest in the American League among qualifying pitchers.

In fact, among the 47 qualifying starters in the American League, Lackey is dead last -- No. 47, a full run worse than currently under-siege A.J. Burnett.

If Lackey didn't have the backing of the game's top offense, he'd be nowhere near a dozen wins. In that nine-game stretch, just twice has he has allowed fewer than three earned runs.

And, tellingly, he's completed the seventh inning once in those nine starts. At a time when bullpens are spent and teams need their starters to chew up innings, Lackey seldom delivers.

Over the nine-game stretch -- and remember, that run of starts is being held up as his best work of the season -- his ERA is 4.11.

Even if Lackey had pitched that "well'' all year, his 4.11 would rank 27th among qualifying American League starters. Put another way, you could fill five full rotations of starters who have lower ERAs all year than Lackey has in during his current stretch of best performances.

And that 4.11 ERA, in this, the second straight season dominated by pitching, that's still more than a tenth of a run above the American League average of 3.97.

For this, Lackey is celebrated?

Tuesday night, he had a 6-0 lead after the first three innings, but allowed base hits to the first three hitters he faced in the bottom of the third. And how did the Rangers score their first run, trailing by six runs? With a bases-loaded walk, courtesy of Lackey.

The walk, meanwhile was issued not to Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, the type of fearsome slugger who could have brought the Rangers back into the game with one swing of the bat. Instead, it was given to ultra-aggressive Elvis Andrus, who has a grand total of 28 walks this season, or, an average of one every three games.

Andrus is neither selective nor dangerous, and yet, Lackey walked him with the bases loaded and a six-run lead.

Does that sound like any kind of turnaround?

Thanks to his swolen victory total, some will suggest that the Red Sox have found their Game 3 playoff starter in Lackey. And if expecting a post-season starting pitcher to give up three or so runs in about six innings is the bar that's been set, then perhaps they have.

But given that the quality of the lineup the Red Sox will face in the Division Series will, by definition, be better than most average lineups Lackey has faced -- and against whom he's compiled a 1.54 WHIP -- then perhaps the Red Sox should keep looking.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.