BOSTON — The Red Sox clubhouse was quiet after the team clinched its first postseason berth since 2009, about as quiet as the Orioles’ bats were against John Lackey.
Boston has much bigger goals.
Lackey pitched a two-hit complete game, Stephen Drew hit a two-run homer and the Red Sox beat Baltimore 3-1 on Thursday night to complete an impressive turnaround from last season’s finish in last place.
The win ensured Boston at least a wild-card berth and lowered its magic number to one for clinching the AL East. A year ago, under Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox finished 69-93 record – their worst since 1965.
“We’ve still got some other goals ahead of us,” Lackey said. “Hopefully, here in the next night or two we can get a party going.”
Earlier in the day, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team to earn a playoff berth when they clinched the NL West.
Just before Adam Jones’ game-ending flyout to right, the crowd chanted, “Lackey! Lackey!” And after Daniel Nava caught the ball, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia embraced Lackey in front of the mound as Red Sox players came out of the dugout and lined up for their usual, low-key postgame handshakes.
“The next step is a more important one than this,” said Manager John Farrell, who has led Boston’s turnaround after one disastrous year under Bobby Valentine. “Winning the East, that’s been the stated goal since day one of spring training. That’s getting closer and I think that will probably be a little bit more the realization of where we’ve come from and where we are at that moment.”
Lackey’s resurgence has been just as remarkable.
He had a 6.41 ERA in 2011 while pitching with arm trouble, then missed all last season following ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. He’s just 10-12 this season but has had the least run support among Boston starters. On Thursday, he lowered his ERA to 3.44.
“The remake of John Lackey, both physically and getting back on the mound and performing as he’s done all year, mirrors that of this team,” Farrell said. “It’s somewhat fitting that to clinch a spot to get into the playoffs is with him on the mound and to go nine innings the way he did, like I said, very fitting.”
Lackey held the Orioles hitless until Jones homered with one out in the seventh, his 32nd this season.
The right-hander allowed a one-out single to J.J. Hardy in the eighth, struck out eight and walked two in his 16th career complete game.
“There’s definitely some satisfaction for sure,” he said, “Just with the injury and other stuff, to get back to the playoffs and get back to the way I can pitch has been fun.”
Baltimore is two games behind in the AL wild-card race after winning two of the three games in the series.