October 16, 2013

On Baseball: Lackey was better than Verlander

The hype was all about the Detroit pitcher, but Boston’s starter proved his worth.

DETROIT — Justin Verlander. Justin Verlander. Justin Verlander.

That’s all the Red Sox heard before Tuesday’s playoff game with the Detroit Tigers.

“It’s been funny for me to watch all the coverage of the game coming in,” pitcher Jake Peavy said. “I have heard John Lackey’s name mentioned three or four times.

“Almost like we didn’t have a starter going (Tuesday). Our starter is pretty good, too.”

But understandably, Lackey’s resume doesn’t compare to Verlander’s.

When you think Justin Verlander, words like “domination” and “nasty” come to mind.

The two words attached to Lackey are “quality start,” as in you can count on Lackey going six or seven innings, and allowing three runs.

But a quality start wasn’t going to do it Tuesday, when Boston’s batters had to face Verlander.

“You definitely know you’re going to have to pitch well,” Lackey said.

He looked in trouble from the start.

Torii Hunter and Prince Fielder singled in the first inning. Victor Martinez came up with Hunter standing on third. Martinez flied to center.

“They came out swinging on me quite a bit,” Lackey said. “I had to make some adjustments.”

Break out the curveballs and sliders. Lackey retired nine straight after the Fielder single.

“Salty (catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia) called a great game,” Lackey said. “I was able to keep them off balance after that.”

Jhonny Peralta led off the fifth inning with a double. He reached third on a groundout, but Lackey struck out Omar Infante and got Andy Dirks to ground out.

“John Lackey was outstanding,” Boston Manager John Farrell said. “He held his stuff throughout the entire time he was out there.”

The “entire time” ended sooner than Lackey would have liked. He allowed a Martinez single between two fly outs in the seventh. Farrell popped out of the dugout, calling for lefty Craig Breslow to face the left-handed Alex Avila.

Reading Lackey’s lips was easy as Farrell approached him. To paraphrase: “You got to be kidding me.”

That was a good sign for Farrell.

“I’d rather him come off arguing than come off with his head hanging,” Farrell said. “You can anticipate him not wanting to come out of the game. And you know what? That’s what makes John such the competitor that he is.”

Lackey was billed as a big-game competitor when Theo Epstein signed him to a five-year $82.5 million contract before the 2010 season. But he had a 5.26 ERA in his first two years and missed last season because of Tommy John surgery.

Other big-contract players were traded away last year and Lackey entered this season as the highest-paid player on the team.

On Tuesday, Lackey earned some of that salary. “The biggest game I’ve pitched (for Boston),” Lackey said.

While the hype may have been about Lackey outperforming Verlander, for Lackey it was more a case of coming through for his teammates.

“We’ve got such a good group of guys,” Lackey said. Pitching like he did Tuesday “was awesome, for sure.”

One teammate, Peavy, ended up looking like a prophet.

“Justin Verlander is probably the best in the game right now,” Peavy said before Tuesday’s game. “But at the same time, there isn’t any part of John Lackey that doesn’t think he’s going to win today.

“It’s fun to go to battle when you have guys who care and you know are going to give the kind of effort that John Lackey is going to give.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: kthomas@pressherald.comTwitter: @ClearTheBases
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