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They’re hardly an intimidating opposing lineup, especially with perennial all-star Ichiro Suzuki having a sub-par season, and yet John Lackey has to feel good about his game against the Seattle Mariners on Friday night. He pitched seven innings allowing just one run and no walks, while out-pitching one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.
Just a few weeks ago, Lackey had come off one of the worst starts of his career and was hearing the howling boos of his home crowd, and yet, that seems so far in the past now, when somehow, Lackey has become one of the more consistent pitchers on the pitching staff. Friday night, relative to his first half of the season, he was utterly brilliant.
Lackey allowed a single to Ichiro on the first pitch of the first inning, and two pitches later, the speedy rightfielder had stolen second and third base. Rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley drove him in with an RBI single, and it seemed this was going to be another rough night for Lackey. But he settled down and retired 10 of the next 11 batters, while keeping his pitch count down.
In the bottom of the first inning, Dustin Pedroia singled to extend his career-high hitting streak to 19 games and his on-base streak to 31 games. Pedroia is hitting just a shade below .300 for the season and a ridiculous .381 since getting his knee checked out on June 10. He was 3-3 Friday with his 19th stolen base. Kevin Youkilis drove him in with a single in the first inning for the Red Sox first run of the game.
Jacoby Ellsbury continued his torrid hitting with a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the third, putting the Sox up 2-1. It was his 16th homer of the season and 3rd in the last two games.
After the third inning, Hernandez and Lackey battled, each allowing base-runners but limiting the damage. Hernandez was fortunate to escape some jams with help from four double plays: one in the second, third, fifth, and sixth inning. Lackey allowed eight hits in his seven innings but only allowed the one run.
In the seventh inning, however, the Red Sox broke the game open. They scored five times to knock Hernandez out of the game. Jarrod Saltalamacchia led off with a single to center, Marco Scutaro flied out, Ellsbury singled, and Pedroia walked to load the bases before Adrian Gonzalez singled in two runs–his major league leading 79th and 80th RBI. Youkilis then doubled to drive in Pedroia and Gonzalez, and David Ortiz hit an RBI single to make it 7-1. The Red Sox are now outscoring opponents 90-32 in the seventh inning this season.
Franklin Morales came on in the eighth but allowed a double, a walk, a three-run homer to Mike Carp, and another double before yielding to Daniel Bard with two outs. Bard made quick work of rookie Greg Halman to end the inning and escape with a 7-4 edge.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with one strikeout to earn his 22nd save in 23 chances. His ERA in save situations improved to 2.70, compared to a hideous 5.19 in non-save situations. He’s been good when he’s needed to.
The Red Sox have won 11 of their last 13 games and improved to 60-37, remaining two games ahead of the Yankees, while Seattle dropped its 13th straight game to fall to 43-56.
The Red Sox have collected at least 10 hits in an astounding 47 games out of 96. They lead the majors with a .277 team batting average….Josh Reddick received some buzz before the game when Terry Francona praised his recent play and decided to start him in right field instead of mainstay J.D. Drew. Reddick was 1-4 on Friday….Youkilis appeared to have injured his hand while fielding a ground ball in the seventh inning. He left the game after the bottom of the inning, but it is possible that this was merely a precautionary move with the large lead….Daniel Bard’s scoreless streak is now at 23 innings.