After the improbable insanity of the first two games of the four-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, it is only fitting that in the third game, with John Lackey having his worst start of the season, in ERA terms, the Boston Red Sox finally gave him the run support they had been withholding all season. The twelve runs the Red Sox scored served to mask all the problems Lackey experienced on the mound, giving him an undeserved victory, and also answered an important question regarding big leads in this series.
The Lackey who pitched in Saturday's contest for 5.7 innings bore little relation to the Lackey we have grown accustomed to seeing for the vast majority of the 2013 season. Gone was his complete domination of the strike zone along with preventing opposing batters from squaring up and driving his pitches. Yes, he did strike out 20.7 percent of the batters he faced, which was an impressive feat, but he also walked 10.3 percent of the Yankees he faced so his strikeout to walk ratio left a lot to be desired.
Where Lackey's pitches were really left wanting, though, was when the Yankees put them in play. Against Lackey, the Yankees put together a .421 batting average on balls in play, having no problem driving Lackey's offerings with authority. The authority was so pronounced that three of the eight hits Lackey allowed went for extra bases, with all three doubles being involved in the Yankees scoring runs.
Not only did the Yankees demonstrate slugging prowess when facing Lackey, but they also got those hits in the most crucial situations. Against the Yankees, Lackey was only credited with stranding 41.7 percent of the base runners he allowed and was charged with allowing seven earned runs; six of the seven earned runs were scored while Lackey was in the game.
Relieved by Matt Thornton in the sixth inning with a runner on first base, Lackey then had to witness as Thornton allowed two straight singles to score the runner for whom Lackey was responsible. Of course, Lackey should have expected to see that base runner score once Thornton entered the game since Thornton has been horrible at keeping inherited runners from scoring. During his Red Sox tenure, which has encompassed 12.0 innings, Thornton has allowed 64.0 percent of his inherited runners to score.
Fortunately for Lackey, while he was having an uncharacteristically horrendous performance, the Red Sox offense was continuing their torrid hitting. For the game, the Red Sox posted a spectacular hitting line of .359 BA/.409 OBP/.795 SLG with a .499 wOBA against the over-matched Yankees pitching staff. The highlights of their offensive performance were the four home runs they hit that accounted for eight of their 13 total runs; Mike Napoli hit two home runs that scored three runs, Jonny Gomes had a three-run home run, and Xander Bogaerts added a two-run home run.
None of the Yankees pitchers who threw in the contest could withstand the offensive onslaught of the Red Sox as each gave up at least one earned run.
Not only did the Red Sox put up an amazingly high run total on the scoreboard, but they also answered the question of how huge a lead must be before it is safe from the opposing club. The threshold for a safe lead in this series is now established at nine runs, which is the largest lead the Red Sox held before it was frittered away by pitchers John Lackey, Matt Thornton, and Drake Britton in the sixth and eighth innings.
For the third straight game, pitching was optional for both teams, but for once, a team was able to build a lead so well-constructed not even their ineffective pitching staff could fully demolish it. However, there was a continuation of the series theme, which is that the Yankees simply cannot match the supremacy of the Red Sox, and one that will probably hold up over the final game of the series on Sunday.