Lackey: The good run still to come

June, 2, 2010
BOSTON -- This is a prediction worth heeding.

“In my career, I’ve always gotten on a run,’’ John Lackey said, “and I haven’t gotten on that run yet.

“I’ll get on my run. I’ll give a little back to those boys, maybe on some days where they don’t swing quite as well.’’

Lackey hasn’t dazzled anybody yet. Not when he has an earned run average just a tick below 5, at 4.95. Not when his manager talks about him “scattering 12 hits” the way he did in six innings of Tuesday night’s 9-4 win over the Oakland Athletics. Not when opposing hitters are batting .325 against him in Fenway. Not when he has walked 20 batters in just 32 innings on the road. Not when his K’s are down (from over 7 to just over 5 per 9 IP) and his walks are up (to over 4 per 9, from just over 2).

And certainly not when more people know the numbers of his contract -- $82.5 million for five years — than have memorized the number on his back (40).

But there’s another way to look at what Lackey has brought to the table so far this season. Even at less than his best, he’s winning. The record is now 6-3 with two no-decisions in 11 starts. And while it’s a revolving door of base-runners seemingly every inning, Lackey has demonstrated a knack for keeping his head -- and keeping it close -- when things threaten most to fall apart.

Tuesday night, already down 2-0 after giving up Daric Barton’s two-run home run in the third, Lackey pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth. That was the inning in which the Athletics pulled off the rare feat of hitting back-to-back doubles and failing to score, Kevin Kouzmanoff holding at third on Gabe Gross’ bloop double to right with no outs.

After giving up two more runs in the fifth, Bill Hall playing Ryan Sweeney’s leadoff fly ball into a double that hit low off the Monster and Mark Ellis dropping a double to right, Lackey stiffened again in the sixth, after the Red Sox had drawn to 4-3. With two on and one out, Lackey retired Kurt Suzuki on a fly ball and retired Jack Cust on a grounder to Kevin Youkilis.

That was the end of the night for Lackey, who was 116 pitches in, but just the start of a Red Sox comeback that led to their 11th win in their last 14 games.

“You can look at numbers and we certainly do,’’ manager Terry Francona said, “but I don’t know whether you can measure a guy’s willingness to compete or his ability to make pitches when games are on the line. Or wants to make pitches when the game is on the line. You can tell he wants to be right in the middle of that.

“I guess we’d rather he not be in the middle, but everybody in that dugout, including myself, thinks he’s going to figure out a way to get people out.’’

So far, Lackey has not been a portrait worth hanging on the other side of the Fens in the MFA, and he’d be the first to say so.

“It’d be nice, for sure,’’ he said when asked if he might appreciate a start in which he didn’t make things quite so hard for himself. “I feel like I’ve been grinding a little bit, for sure. But keep my head down, keep grinding, keep working my butt off, and keep us in games.’’

There’s a bottom line here for Lackey, and for the Red Sox. Some statmen may dismiss wins as a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness, with justification, but there’s still something to be said for a guy who has a knack for being on the right end of the score.

“Honestly, it’s a little frustrating because I thought I did better than some of the numbers are going to show,’’ Lackey said, “but we won the game, so who really cares?’’

That run that Lackey talked about has yet to come. But remember, it always has.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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