The Red Sox made it three straight victories against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night, with John Lackey leading the team to their first shutout of the season in front of the 2004 World Series championship team.
The Braves have been all aggression at the plate in the first three games of this home-and-home series, and tonight it did not serve them at all well. That makes what John Lackey did particularly impressive, as he responded to their aggression with almost exclusively fastballs, be they of the cut, two-seam, or four-seam variety. The Braves went up there looking for hard stuff, and John Lackey pushed all-in on his ability to keep that hard stuff away from there bats. It was a gambit that was likely destined for lopsided results one way or another.
There's no question who won that contest. Through the first two innings, John Lackey had three strike outs and three pop-ups. The only significant contact coming from Freddie Freeman who managed to dump one of his first-pitch strikes into left field for a double.
There would be some hits--that's kind of inevitable when you pit aggression against aggression--but Lackey had relatively few stress moments, and with the Braves swinging straight through 20 of Lackey's 105 pitches, missing 12 times on 30 cutters, there were no free baserunners and few productive outs to help the Braves get on the board.
The Red Sox lineup did not do quite as much work for John Lackey as they did for first Clay Buchholz and then Jon Lester--what else is new?--but they certainly did enough. The first run would come in the second inning, Daniel Nava not exactly taking advantage of a 1st-and-3rd zero outs situation by grounding into a double play but managing to get a run home all the same.
The second run, coming in the very next inning, was less wasteful. With two outs runners once again on the corners, A.J. Pierzynski hit a changeup back up the middle and into center field to plate Xander Bogaerts from third. It was not the only timely hitting the Red Sox would receive, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jonny Gomes smacking line drive hits with runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings respectively. Neither Gavin Floyd nor the Atlanta Bullpen were bad per se, but they let the Red Sox put the ball in play, and unlike we saw for most of the first two months of the season, they actually did so with authority in some big moments.
The only real problem inning came in the seventh, when John Lackey allowed two of the first three Atlanta batters to reach base. Chris Capuano came in and allowed a walk to B.J. Upton, but did so between ground balls from Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, getting the Red Sox out scot-free.
It was a well-played game of baseball by the Red Sox coming on a night that saw the 2004 World Series champions honored in a fantastic pre-game ceremony featuring everyone from regular season role players to Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling. We even Manny throwing a knuckleball to Jason Varitek for the first pitch--only it was cut off midway by Johnny Damon. It was a night that would have been great even with a loss, but was truly special with a win.
Now with a series victory in their pockets, the Red Sox will go for the home-and-home sweep behind the struggling Jake Peavy Thursday night.