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Closing Time: John Lackey overpowers Rockies as Sox sweep short series

06.26.13 at 6:43 pm ET
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John Lackey tied a career high with 12 strikeouts on Wednesday against Colorado. (AP)

John Lackey tied a career high with 12 strikeouts on Wednesday against Colorado. (AP)

At first it was merely an impressive start: three strikeouts in the first inning for John Lackey. But after he recorded his first six outs of the game all on strikeouts, and nine of his first 12, it became clear that this was a rare outing for Lackey. The righty exited Wednesday’s game after seven innings with 12 strikeouts, matching a career high he set with the Angels in 2008.

Against the free-swinging Rockies, Lackey attacked the strike zone all game, throwing 73 of his 98 pitches for strikes. He fanned every batter in the starting lineup except Josh Rutledge at least once and struck out Carlos Gonzalez, one of the National League’s best hitters this year, twice. He leaned mostly on his fastball, on which he was able to get both called and swinging strikes while working at up to 95 mph, but also got swings and misses on his slider and curve.

“It speaks to where my stuff’s at,” Lackey, now 5-5 with a 2.99 ERA, said of the strikeouts. “I’m pretty excited about it, really, because honestly, my second halves of my career have usually been better than my firsts. So, moving forward, it’s been kind of exciting.”

Through seven, Lackey gave up just two runs, one on a solo homer from Michael Cuddyer and one after Gonzalez singled and stole second in the first inning. He was overpowering for the vast majority of his outing, in a way that was unlike anything that he displayed in 2010 and 2011, the first two years of his Red Sox career prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery.

“He’s not competing against his body. The Tommy John surgery, the rehab, the reshaping of the body — it’s almost like we’re looking at a different guy,” said Sox manager John Farrell, who was Lackey’s pitching coach in the right-hander’s first year in Boston in 2010. “His stuff doesn’t tail off as it might have early on when he signed here. He’s always been a tenacious competitor. We continue to see that every time he walks to the mound. Much to the credit to what John has put himself through, and that includes the surgery and all the work he’s put in following that.”

Thanks to the Sox offense, Lackey got to work with at least a two-run lead from the second inning onward. For the second night in a row, the Sox got to the Rockies’ starter early and didn’t let up. They didn’t bombard Roy Oswalt all at once quite the way they had Juan Nicasio the night before, but they picked up nine hits and five runs against him, all of those runs coming in the first three innings, then cruised to a 5-3 victory.

Here’s a look at what went right and what went wrong for the Red Sox on Wednesday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Koji Uehara converted his second save of the year and his first since being anointed as the Sox’ official closer, delivering a 1-2-3 ninth that featured a pair of punchouts. The 38-year-old breezed through the inning, requiring just 13 pitches (10 strikes) to record the team’s first save since June 15 and just its third (against five blown saves) in the month of June.

“Much like we’ve seen him in other seventh- or eighth-inning roles, he’s going to throw strikes. He’s not going to beat himself,” said Farrell. “Once again, that was the case today.”

Indeed, Uehara suggested that the experience of recording the game’s final three outs stirred no different sentiments than any other stage of the game.

“My approach was the same, no different feeling at all … The pressure, the stress level is the same wherever I pitch so it’s nothing different,” Uehara said through a translator. “The only goal that I have is just to continue pitching in the majors. I’m old, so I don’t have to think about the future, I just concentrate on what is in front of me.”

- Shane Victorino showed no visible ill effects from his latest rendezvous with the outfield wall. He drove in the game’s first run, bringing Jacoby Ellsbury around from second with a single. He also doubled in the seventh inning and scored two runs himself.

“When he’s healthy, when the low back and the hamstring ailments haven’t been there, he’s been a dynamic type of player for us,” said Farrell. “He’s got speed to go first to third. The extra-base ability, particularly to the pull side, and he can create some havoc in that 2-hole for us.”

– After the Sox fell behind, 1-0, in the top of the first, their offense was immediately jumpstarted by Ellsbury, who smashed a double to lead off the bottom of the first. Ellsbury now has doubles in each of his last five games, matching the longest streak of consecutive games with an extra-base hit in his career.

Dustin Pedroia followed up a 3-for-5 performance on Tuesday with a (2-for-4) one on Wednesday, scoring a run. He’s now had multiple hits in four of his last five games after not having a multi-hit game from June 8 to June 21.

WHAT WENT WRONG

- Oswalt had Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s number on Wednesday, striking him out three times in three plate appearances. (Saltalamacchia did later reach base via a walk against Rockies reliever Wilton Lopez.)

The bottom of the order struggled against Oswalt in general – the Sox’ 6-9 hitters reached base just twice in the first six innings. While Stephen Drew did hit a triple against him in the sixth, he ran into an out at home immediately afterward on a contact play.

Jose Iglesias saw his 27-game streak of contests reaching base come to an end, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a double play grounder. Bunting for a hit didn’t go well for Iglesias in the second, as he popped the ball up to Oswalt, and he struck out his next time up. He reached first on a fielder’s choice in the sixth, but that came at the expense of Drew being thrown out at home on a non-force play.

- On the negative side for Lackey, when the Rockies started to hit him, they hit him hard. Michael Cuddyer crushed a first-pitch fastball over the left-field seats in the top of the sixth. That was followed by a well-struck double to center by Wilin Rosario and a lineout to left by Todd Helton, all on fastballs.

Lackey limited the damage even in that inning, though, striking out Tyler Colvin and getting a flyout from Yorrit Torrealba to strand runners on first and third and allow just one run.

- Junichi Tazawa was greeted rudely by Cuddyer, who crushed a solo homer against him in the top of the eighth. Righties are hitting .300 with a .338 OBP and .467 slugging mark this year against Tazawa.

Read More: john lackey, junichi tazawa, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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