Lackey throws two-hitter as Red Sox clinch playoff berth
Boston Red Sox's Stephen Drew, right, celebrates his two-run home run with teammates including David Ross, center, in the second inning of a baseball game in Boston, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia runs to first base as he grounds into a force out in the 12th inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park in Boston, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. The Orioles won 5-3 in 12 innings. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Tillman wipes his face after giving up a two-run home run to Boston Red Sox's Stephen Drew in the second inning of a baseball game in Boston, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Tillman looks at the ball after Boston Red Sox's Stephen Drew hit a two-run home run in the second inning of a baseball game in Boston, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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, last night to complete an impressive turnaround from last season’s last place-finish.
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, wunder 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’s 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 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. Last night, 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.
“Who cares about this getting two out of three?” Jones said. “At this point in time, winning the series means nothing. We need wins. ‘Good job getting the series’ if this was June, but it’s September. We need wins.”
Chris Tillman (16-7) gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts and two walks.
“That’s the way these games go at the end of the season,” he said. “You’ve got to be on top of it from the get-go all the way through. I made some mistakes and they made me pay.”
Boston scored all its runs in the second on Drew’s homer, his 13th of the year, and Dustin Pedroia’s RBI single.
The Red Sox have led the AL East since after play on Aug. 25 and entered yesterday having topped the AL East in 46 of the previous 49 days.
Lackey made it 47 out of 50.
“As far as fastball command, keeping the ball down in the zone throughout the game, yeah, that was probably his best game” of the year, Saltalamacchia said.
∎ Pedroia extended his hitting streak to nine games.
∎ Baltimore opens a four-game series tonight at Tampa Bay with Jason Hammel (7-8) pitching for the Orioles against David Price (8-8).
∎ The Red Sox send Jon Lester (14-8) to the mound against Esmil Rogers (5-7) in the opener of their last home series of the regular season, three games against Toronto.