Monday, July 4, 2011

Red Sox pop-ups: Little things build up, cost Lackey

Trouble finishing much? Or some sort of Blue Jay demon?

It looked like a combination of both was at work throttling Boston Red Sox starter John Lackey in a 1-2 punch Monday afternoon.

Less than a month removed from a personal three-game winning streak, and less than a week removed from a loss in Philadelphia when he arguably deserved a more savory outcome, Lackey regressed to new lows in the team’s return home from a 10-day road trip.

The second-highest-grossing member of the Red Sox roster ($15,950,000 and trailing only Josh Beckett) penned the single-shoddiest entry in his 2011 game log. He authorized seven runs on nine hits within the first three innings of an eventual 9-7 falter to Toronto at Fenway Park.

The only reason he didn’t exceed any of his previous highs on the year (10 hits via the Angels on May 5, nine runs by these same Blue Jays May 11) was because he set a new single-game low with 2.1 innings-pitched. But the truth is, all of the data could have been a little less dreadful if Lackey had simply sprinkled an extra strike here and there.

Of the 16 batters he confronted, Lackey jumped to an initial 0-1 count 10 times, including all four first-inning adversaries. And Lackey had eight opportunities to polish off a Toronto player all on his own, yet only mustered that third strike twice.

His only two strikeouts on the day―one against Adam Lind to end the first inning and the other benching Jose Molina in the second―followed the exact same pattern. Lackey leaped ahead to a 0-2 count and authorized a ball before the Blue Jay in question swung and missed on the fourth pitch.

Theoretically, with more third strikes, Lackey could have spared himself as many as eight extra pitches. More critically, though, he might have saved the Red Sox extra runs and made all the difference between a winning and losing cause, as evidenced by Boston’s rally from the fifth inning onward.

In the third stanza, wherein Toronto expanded the gap from 3-0 to 7-0, Lackey pushed three more Blue Jays to the brink with two strikes. Yet he wound up yielding a hit to all three.

Leadoff man Eric Thames fell behind 1-2 before he singled to left. On the next play, Jose Bautista was on the verge of going down on three straight pitches. But Lackey gave him two free breaths with back-to-back balls and ultimately let the count run full before Bautista dropped the play’s seventh offering on Josh Reddick’s property.

Three plays later, with Thames and Bautista both having scored and with only one out off the checklist, Lackey lured Travis Snider into a 0-2 hole.

But after watching a ball go by, Snider laced a tricky grounder down the right field wall for an easy, two-RBI double, his second two-bagger in as many innings.

With that, Lackey’s day was done as an expectable breeze of boos nudged him along to the dugout after a mere 2.1 innings-pitched.

By day’s end, his 2011 transcript fell back to three games below .500 (5-8), exactly where it was at 2-5 after his previous bout with the Blue Jays.

Sick streak for Ellsbury
Since withdrawing last Friday’s game in Houston due to illness, leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury been on a feverish three-day tear. He has etched seven hits, two walks, two stolen bases, three runs scored, and two RBIs post-illness.

And this is also coming not long after he went 3-for-5 with an RBI in a 5-2 triumph over the Phillies last Thursday.

Promptly returning for the remainder of the Astros series, Ellsbury turned a first-inning walk into the opening run and a fifth-inning double into Boston’s fourth run en route to a 10-4 win on Saturday.

The subsequent afternoon, he belted two hits, drew another walk, and stole second in Sunday’s 2-1 triumph that sealed a winning road trip (5-4) for the Red Sox.

And on Monday, Ellsbury went 4-for-5 with a run scored and two RBIs, along with his first triple of the season in the fifth inning and a stolen base in the ninth.