BOSTON — Joe Maddon was the bench coach for the 2002 Angels when John Lackey became the first rookie pitcher to win a Game 7 of the World Series in 93 years. The Rays manager said Friday that he was always grateful to Lackey for the winner's share he got.
"Helped pay for my daughter's wedding," Maddon said.
Well, in the interest of fiscal happiness, maybe Lackey did Maddon and the cash-challenged Rays another financial solid Saturday night by grinding out a 7-4 victory over Maddon's ace, David Price. Although Maddon said he's looking forward to returning to Boston, after these back-to-back ALDS smackdowns at Fenway, the Rays sure don't look like they'll have to pay for a return flight for Game 5.
He could be plenty grateful on this night to the same Red Sox lineup that often had failed to provide him with adequate run support during the regular season. David Ortiz launched two home runs. Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits, scored three runs and set a rousing tone from the leadoff spot. Dustin Pedroia knocked in three runs.
"It was kind of a blue-collar night for John on the mound," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He gave us everything he had. Fortunately, we were able to give him a little bit of a cushion where he wasn't making every pitch against the wall."
Sometimes the baseball seemed have to eyes for the Red Sox. Sometimes the ball was crushed. The Red Sox were aggressive against Price, and he couldn't get them to swing and miss at his best stuff. The Red Sox ran the base paths hard and smart again. Shane Victorino broke up what would have been an inning-ending double play to allow Ellsbury to score, and it's that kind of perspiration and inspiration that had Fenway absolutely giddy by the time Koji Uehara punched out a perfect ninth inning that ended in poetic fashion against Wil Myers. Yes, the fans were still chanting Myers' name.
The Red Sox outscored the Rays 19-6 over the weekend, outhit them 25-12 and outplayed them in every quantifiable way. Did someone say this was supposed to be one pitchers' duel after another?
And here's the fairly amazing twist. The relentless Red Sox lineup had given Ryan Dempster the best run support in the American League during the regular season at 6.07 runs. They gave Felix Doubront the second-best. Jon Lester wasn't far behind at 10th. But Lackey? He needed 21 runs in two late-season starts against the Yankees just to move up to 58th place in the AL at 3.76 runs. Lackey, whose 3.52 ERA was his best since 2007, deserved a half-dozen more wins than his 10-13 record shows.
Well, Saturday was payback time. And on this night he was able to scuffle through a so-so, four-run, seven-hit outing long enough — 5 1/3 innings — to get the win.
"It definitely wasn't my best stuff or the best I felt this year, probably pretty far down actually," Lackey said. "But we got through it. The guys scored runs. Doing what they did against Price was the story of the game."
"It's special [playing with Big Papi]. I like it a lot more on this side. He's tough this time of year. He's a guy who likes bright lights for sure."
It's funny. Back when he was an ace with the Angels, riding championship floats at Disneyland and making 14 postseason starts in eight years, Lackey used to say he hated pitching at Fenway.
Boston fans almost came to dislike Lackey just as much — his demeanor, his attitude, everything for a few years after he signed that five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Red Sox before the 2010 season.
Well, times change. And so has John Lackey.
Farrell picked Lackey to pitch Game 2 because his numbers were so much better at home than on the road. He was 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA and a 5.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 Fenway starts. The opposition only hit .232 and had a .266 on-base percentage. Contrast that to the road, where he was 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA, 3.36 K/BB ratio and opposing hitters hit .260 and .312.
Farrell said he thought that Lackey was better pitching in to lefties and away from righties and this enables him to better take advantage of a big right field at Fenway. Lackey's take? "I'm not really sure, honestly,'' he had said on Friday. "I don't know what that is, because really this place probably isn't one of the best places to pitch. It should be the other way around."
Lackey had something else going for him. With the AL East locked up, Farrell was able to give Lackey 10 days rest before his first postseason start since 2009 with the Angels. The numbers showed that he had a 3.18 ERA and 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings rate when he had at least six days rest. Those numbers declined to 3.89 ERA and 7.4 with fewer days off.
Well, the 10 days off might have worked against him at times in this one. He had some control issues, walking David DeJesus and Ben Zobrist to lead off the first and second innings. He ended up walking three and hitting a batter.
"I thought in the first inning, [the layoff] might have had some effect," Farrell said. "He pulled some fastballs off the plate against righthanders."
"My command was kind of hit-or-miss the whole time I was out here," Lackey said.
Lackey, who missed all of 2012 after Tommy John elbow surgery, promised that he'd be emotional Saturday night. He promised that he'd be fired up for his first Red Sox postseason start.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable," he said. "People were going crazy when I struck out Zobrist to get out of that one jam [in the fifth]."
"Coming back from Tommy John, that rehab is pretty straightforward, but the commitment that he made to reshape his body, to put himself where he is physically — to me, that's correlated to the consistency that he's been in our rotation," Farrell had said Friday. "The reshaping of the body has allowed him to command the baseball, just because he's been able to repeat his delivery more consistently. And he's been probably one of our top two starters in terms of consistency, start to finish."
Lackey doesn't like that reshaping the body talk, especially after his disappointment of 2011 and being one of the pitchers at the center of the chicken and beer controversy. The Red Sox turned three double plays in this game. The last time that happened in a Red Sox postseason game? It was 1918. The starting pitcher was Babe Ruth. Yep, John Lackey has something in common with the Bambino beyond a large frame.
"It's my arm being healthy," Lackey told the Boston Globe. "To be honest, that stuff [about his body] kind of angers me a little bit. I was never out of shape. My workouts now are pretty much the same as they've always been. Honestly, most of the guys who throw a lot of innings are bigger dudes. There's definitely a possibility you can lose too much weight sometimes."
At any rate, Maddon said, Lackey's velocity is back.
Now Farrell has Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox's best pitcher this year when healthy, and Jake Peavy for the next two games. Alex Cobb figures to give Buchholz a tough time in Game 3, but Peavy will be favored against anyone Maddon puts out there. The Rays have a $57 million payroll, and as terrific a manager as Maddon is, as strong as the pitching is supposed to be, they just can't keep pace with the juggernaut of the Red Sox lineup.