Last night may have been the best Red Sox game of the spring to date, at least as far as positive signs for the regular season are concerned.
Boston's 4-3 win over Puerto Rico could hardly be called dominant. One-run games don't get tagged with that sort of praise, after all. But it's hard to imagine a one-run game with better components than this. Consider:
- Mike Napoli hit his second home run of the spring in just his sixth at bat. It's a reminder that, while the hip may be a concern, it's more a matter of if it goes than anything else. For the time being, Napoli is still Napoli.
- Will Middlebrooks joined him in the home run club, hitting his first since injuring his wrist last year (and, of course, since doing so again last week). Many are cautioning against expecting too much out of the sophomore third baseman, but it's certainly nice to see the pop back.
- Stephen Drew went 1-for-2 with a walk, Ryan Lavarnway 3-for-3 with two doubles. Both have struggled in the opening days of spring, which is rough for guys who are very much in need of bounce-back years. Hopefully this provides the jump-start needed.
- Jackie Bradley even doubled in his one trip to the plate. Because, you know, he can do no wrong.
Really, though, the most important positive in the game came on the mound, where John Lackey finally showed some signs of life. Three innings, three hits, nothing else. All three hits were singles, and every single other ball in play came on the ground. His fastball clocked in a couple MPH higher than earlier in the spring, and he hit the zone with regularity.
Remember, this is John Lackey we're talking about. John Lackey, who held opponents without a run exactly twice in 2011. The same John Lackey whose ERA in the first and third innings that year were 7.07 and 8.23 respectively. The same John Lackey who was so badly beaten by a weak Pittsburgh lineup five days back.
This time, he excelled, and he did so against a lineup featuring Angel Pagan, Alex Rios, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, and Mike Aviles. It wasn't a major league lineup, but these aren't the rec league guys you sometimes see trotted out in spring training.
Can we feel sure about John Lackey now? Hardly. It's one outing in spring. Heck, it still leaves him with a 6.00 ERA on the year if I'm doing my math correctly. But I'll say this: it's the first real on-the-field reason John Lackey has given us to have any hope for him since April, 2011. And that's saying something.