The more things change, the more they stay the same. What has changed for the Boston Red Sox over the past month is that the club no longer cavalierly fritters away John Lackey's starts. Thursday's 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles marked the third straight Lackey start in which the team emerged victorious. Going back to August 17, the Boston Red Sox have gone 5-2 in the last seven games started by Lackey, having finally learned the team is best served by winning when they have one of their best pitchers on the mound.
What stayed the same, even in victory, was a callback to what has transpired for most of the season. Once again, the Red Sox offense treated a Lackey start as an optional work day. If they decided to come in and get some work done, then great, but they seemed determined not to tax themselves unduly, electing to give only the minimal amount of effort. After all, the Red Sox hitters knew that they could count on Lackey to put in yeoman's work and do most of the heavy lifting for the club.
It turned out they were right to deprive Lackey of their usual run production and not to overextend themselves; the Red Sox offense scored just three runs off a batting line of .226 BA/.273 OBP/.484 SLG with a .323 wOBA and posted an unimpressive win probability added of 0.023. Going 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position also made sure that they did not spoil Lackey with too much run support as they must have felt they did in Lackey's two previous starts.
The most valuable hitter for the Red Sox was Stephen Drew, whose two-run home run in the second inning gave the Red Sox a lead they would never relinquish. Dustin Pedroia added an RBI single two at-bats after Drew's home run, giving the Red Sox all the runs they would score and leaving Lackey to do most of the heavy lifting to secure the win.
Lackey was up to the task, throwing a complete game two-hitter with his only costly mistake coming when he served up a pitch that Adam Jones sent into the stands. Since the home run came in the seventh inning, it did not greatly affect the Red Sox's win expectancy and its only purpose was to prove that Lackey was mortal on Thursday, a fact which his 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio might have masked.
While the win on Thursday did clench a playoff berth for the Red Sox, an inevitability for the majority of the season, it was more important that the Red Sox continue to win games in which Lackey started, a trait that will serve them well once the postseason begins.