Red Sox 4, Padres 1: The Year of John Lackey continues

Jim Rogash

Brandon Snyder picked up a huge hit for the Red Sox, but in the end it's John Lackey who's the story here.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is John Lackey's world. We are just living in it.

Eleven months ago, Red Sox fans were musing that John Lackey's absence was one of the few bright spots of the season. Here was a pitcher--the marquee free agent signing of Boston's 2009-2010 offseason--who had fallen so incredibly far that simply having him out of sight and out of mind was preferable to any chance he could bail out a starting rotation with precious few productive arms.

Now he's all but winning games single-handedly. If the playoff were to start next week, with Clay Buchholz still unavailable, John Lackey would be pitching the first game. Disbelief doesn't begin to cover it.

So, how did Lackey follow up his 12-strikeout domination of the Rockies? With eight innings of one-run ball which, frankly, could have been nine. If he did not pick up quite as many strikeouts, he was no less baffling. Proof enough of that can be found in his ability to induce swinging strikes:

Lackey wouldn't continue at such a torrid pace, but still finished with his best ever mark of 22 swings-and-misses.

Only once did Lackey ever face real trouble, allowing a pair of leadoff hits to put runners on the corners to start the fifth. Jonny Gomes, however, gave him a chance to keep the inning harmless, deking the lead runner in Nick Hundley on the second hit to keep him from scoring. Lackey took full advantage, getting the next three batters in order without allowing so much as a sacrifice fly, exiting the inning with the shutout intact.

The only damage dealt to Lackey all night was on a Jesus Guzman home run in the top of the seventh on a fly ball to left that was actually called a double at first, so close was it to missing the top of the wall.

That run would only serve to pull the Padres within three, however, thanks primarily to one big inning and one big hit. While the Red Sox had been giving Robbie Erlin trouble in the first three innings, he'd managed to avoid allowing any runs thanks to a questionable play at the plate in the first. Finally, though, the Sox would break through in the fourth. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli got the inning off on the right foot with a single and a walk respectively, and while Jonny Gomes would strike out behind them, Jarrod Saltalamacchia would draw another walk behind him to load the bases.

Already this quartet had forced Erlin to throw 25 pitches in the inning--something of a theme on the night--and Brandon Snyder wasn't going to let him get off any easier. Despite falling behind 1-2, Snyder fouled off pitch after pitch, drawing the count even with the seventh of the at-bat and nearly finding fair territory down the left field line. Finally, on the ninth pitch, Snyder found the right swing. Missing a grand slam by just inches, Snyder planted a long drive off the Monster in left-center field, about as deep as it could be without finding the bleachers. While Snyder was caught trying to stretch his double into a triple, it was an out nobody is going to begrudge him, with all three runs coming in to score.

Jose Iglesias would tack on another run with his second hit of the night in the bottom of the sixth, but by that point it was more about letting John Lackey and, ultimately, Koji Uehara finish off the Padres than anything else. The eighth and ninth innings passed without serious incident, and Koji high-fived Salty as the Red Sox celebrated their sixth game in seven tries.

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