MINNEAPOLIS — John Lackey was standing on the mound preparing to face the Minnesota Twins in the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday when the umpires signaled for a delay.
As the rain grew heavier, Lackey looked to the heavens and flipped the ball in the air with his right hand. He snatched it back with his glove and headed for the dugout.
Lackey was smiling later on after the Red Sox extending their win streak to five games with a 5-1 victory. But he was annoyed at the time at having to leave the mound in the midst of his best performance in years.
“I definitely wanted to go at least another inning. I was definitely frustrated a little bit not to keep going,” Lackey said.
Lackey allowed one unearned run on one hit over six innings. He struck out five without a walk as the Sox finished a three-game sweep. Lackey retired the first 12 Twins in order on 51 pitches and at the time of the delay had put only two runners on base.
“Pretty smooth. I was locating my fastball pretty well,” Lackey said. “I was getting ahead in the counts, that was the biggest thing. I was able to dictate some at-bats from ahead.”
It was the third time in his career that Lackey has thrown at least six innings and allowed one hit, the first since 2006.
“If there’s no rain he’s in line for a minimum of seven, maybe eight, innings,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “His pitch count was very much under control. He was efficient.”
But Lackey actually felt that Sunday wasn’t the best he’s felt this season.
“Honestly I felt better the last couple of times than I did today,” he said.
“I warmed up terrible today and then I found some location when the game started.”
Lackey’s perfection ended in the fifth inning when Trevor Plouffe doubled to left field. Lackey then hit Oswaldo Arcia with a wayward cutter.
The Twins suddenly had the tying run at the plate. Lackey struck out Wilkin Ramirez and got Chris Parmelee to ground towards second base.
A double-play ball produced only one out. After Dustin Pedroia fed Pedro Ciriaco, the throw to first base was wide and hit Parmelee. Plouffe scored on the error.
It was the sixth error of the season for Ciriaco, who was playing for an injured Stephen Drew. The Sox could be looking for an upgrade on their bench if Ciriaco’s play does not improve.
Lackey got out of the inning by getting Aaron Hicks to ground to second. He then retired the side in order in the sixth inning.
Lackey is 2-4 with a 3.31 earned run average in six starts in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. But Farrell believes Lackey has pitched to a higher level than those statistics show.
“He’s shown better power, better quality of repertoire than maybe the win-loss and ERA might otherwise indicate,” the manager said.
“Most importantly, though, he continues to come out of every start feeling great physically. His work in between has been consistent. There’s no reason that type of performance shouldn’t continue.”
The delay lasted exactly three hours. Farrell said keeping the players focused wasn’t a problem.
“We obviously all had to wait three hours,” he said. “A number of guys were in the dugout for probably half of that time. Updates were being given as best we could relay it.
“But this is a group, their focus is to play the game. Even with a three-hour rain delay, they’re raring to go. They love the game.”
Noble as that all sounds, most of the Sox joined the fans at Target Field and watched “The Sandlot” during the delay.
The 1993 baseball movie was shown on the scoreboard in left field and a large group of the players spent nearly two hours of the delay watching.
“Hadn’t seen that in a while, so that was solid,” Lackey said.
Twins starter Pedro Hernandez had faced the Sox twice in his career with grim results: 14 runs on 19 hits over six innings. The most recent of those games came May 8 at Fenway Park when he lasted two innings and gave up six runs.
Sunday was not much better as Hernandez (2-1) gave up three runs on nine hits over 4⅓ innings.
Will Middlebrooks hit his eighth home run in the second inning. Pedroia picked up an RBI in the third and Mike Napoli singled in a run in the fifth.
After the skies cleared, only several hundred fans remained. The Twins allowed them all to sit behind the dugouts if they chose.
“It was like a high school game,” Lackey said. “The people were having fun.”
Pedroia hit his second home of the season in the ninth inning off Jared Burton. It was an unusual one.
With Jonny Gomes on first base, Pedroia hit a deep fly ball to left field. Josh Willingham tried to make the catch at the wall but the ball hit his forearm and deflected over the wall.
Pedroia said that never has happened to him before.
“They’re usually robbing them,” he said. “We got lucky on that one.”
Pedroia has hit safely in 11 straight games at 21 of 45 on his streak and is now hitting .343.
The Sox, 14-7 on the road, start a three-game series in Chicago Monday night against the White Sox.