For six innings, this was your typical 2013 John Lackey start. Lackey keeping the opposition more or less in check, the Red Sox wasting his contribution with frustrating inning after frustrating inning. They left the bases loaded, extinguished rallies by hitting into double plays, hit line drive outs in big moments. It was the best of the worst of the last three, four years for the Red Sox in 150 frustrating minutes.
To be fair, John Lackey wasn't entirely blameless in the 3-1 score. In fact, for having given up just three runs through six innings, he wasn't pitching all that well. Manny Machado and Chris Davis had taken him deep, and while he was getting out of innings, there were some very loud outs to the warning track. But for Brian Roberts getting himself thrown out trying to steal third ahead of Machado's homer, even the quality start would have been beyond his reach.
If Lackey had not dominated, however--if his actual pitching was not everything it has been at other times this year--he still kept the Red Sox within striking distance. And strike they eventually did. All the way in the bottom of the seventh.
Amusingly enough, though, even this rally would feel almost begrudging. Stephen Drew got it started with a leadoff double into the right field corner, but just one pitch later Xander Bogaerts had slapped a line drive into Brian Roberts' glove. Jacoby Ellsbury fouled a ball off his foot (the scans on which have, thankfully, come back negative), but stayed in the game to hit a single...which was stopped by J.J. Hardy, keeping Drew at third. When, with Jacoby Ellsbury having joined Drew in scoring position by way of a stolen base, Shane Victorino hit a rocket right to none other than Brian Roberts again, it was enough to drive a good fan insane.
They still had one out left to make good on the inning, though, and where the conventional line drives had failed to get the job done, the smallest of hits would make all the difference. The pitch from Darren O'Day ran well inside on Dustin Pedroia, who pulled it, driving it into the ground. Manny Machado dived, J.J. Hardy dived, but the ball had eyes, and found its way into left field, allowing both Drew and Ellsbury to score, the latter sliding in just ahead of a sweeping tag attempt from Matt Wieters.
The run didn't open the floodgates, exactly, but it didn't have to. After Lackey threw mostly balls in getting a fly ball out from Machado, John Farrell opted to pull him for Craig Breslow, who sent Chris Davis back to the dugout with a strikeout before getting Adam Jones to send the game to the eighth. There, once again, the Red Sox rallied. This time, though, it was quick. With two down in the inning, Jarrod Saltalamacchia almost seemed to have done the job himself, launching a high fly ball to left field. As is so often the case, though, the Monster doesn't only give, but takes away. Salty's best effort hit the wall hard, just shy of a homer, holding the catcher to a double.
Still, if it hadn't scored a run, Salty's double put the go-ahead run in scoring position for the Red Sox. The Orioles decided not to face Stephen Drew, offering him the intentional walk and forcing Farrell to call in Mike Carp to pinch hit for Xander Bogaerts. And if the magic in old Carp's bat has been waning over the last month, there was just enough left to pull this one out. Carp certainly did not hit the 0-1 fastball hard. In fact, he was completely and totally jammed. But once again, the weak hit--this time a flare to left--was perfectly placed. Manny Machado made a late lunge, but it was not enough. Saltalamacchia came in standing up, and all that was left between the Red Sox and a fourth straight win was three outs.
Koji Uehara was available. Enough said.
The Red Sox are now winners of three straight series, and four straight games. September looms on the horizon, slightly ominous given recent history, but it feels like they hit that big speed bump in August. It was ugly for a while. The Rays are certainly closer than we'd like them to be (ditto the Indians, Yankees, and, yes, Orioles, for that matter). But now they seem to have their momentum back just in time for the big finish.