ARLINGTON, Texas — John Lackey ambled into the clubhouse 3 hours and 10 minutes before the first pitch Sunday wearing an off-white Stetson hat, Wrangler jeans, and brown cowboy boots with the Texas state flag embroidered on the front.
Who better to beat the Texas Rangers?
Lackey pitched seven strong innings to help the momentum-building Red Sox to a 5-2 victory. He then retired to his nearby ranch to enjoy some time with family and friends.
“He dressed the part, that’s for sure,” teammate Jon Lester said.
In a park where he has been hit hard in the past, Lackey allowed two runs on seven hits and struck out nine without a walk as the Red Sox won their third series in a row.
At 19-18, the Red Sox are over .500 for the first time since they were 2-1 April 3. They have won six of their last eight games and sit two games out of first place.
“It’s as much about the series, not so much the overall record,” manager John Farrell said. “When we look at a three-game series or a two-game series as we’ve come through the last 8-10 days, it’s encouraging to see that on day three you’ve got a chance to sweep or win the rubber game.
“There’s a pretty good sense of the expectations. Not just from the staff but certainly the players when we get on the field.”
Good starting pitching has fueled the run and Lackey added to that Sunday, managing the game efficiently after the Red Sox scored three runs in the first inning and another in the second against lefthander Robbie Ross.
Lackey allowed a solo home run by Shin-Soo Choo in the fourth inning then an RBI double by Mitch Moreland in the seventh.
With two on and one out in the seventh, he struck out Leonys Martin and Rougned Odor to end his day after 105 pitches.
“Kind of hunting the strikeout, for sure,” Lackey said.
Andrew Miller pitched the eighth inning before Koji Uehara picked up his ninth save.
Lackey is 5-2 in eight starts and has worked well with new catcher A.J. Pierzynski. In his last four games, all caught by Pierzynski, Lackey has given up seven earned runs over 29 innings and struck out 29 with four walks.
Pierzynski likes pitchers to work quickly and Lackey responds to the tempo.
“I think we mesh pretty well. He’s right on with the rhythm thing,” Lackey said. “When things are flowing like that, it does help you throw strikes.”
Said Pierzynski: “I wish we could fast-forward every guy. He wants the ball; he wants to go. He doesn’t like to wait around and I like that.”
Lackey, a native of Abilene, made his major league debut in 2002 at what is now known as Globe Life Park and Sunday was his 20th start there, the most for a visiting player.
While he always enjoys being back home, Lackey was 7-7 with a 6.61 earned run average against the Rangers in Texas before Sunday.
“I don’t think anybody’s really enjoyed pitching here for the most part,” he said. “I’ve done a little bit of everything here; I’ve been here so many times. I’ve had some good ones here; I’ve had some really bad ones, and a lot in-between. Today was a good one.”
Lackey was wearing his hat as he took questions, much to the delight of his teammates.
“Sick!” shouted out Jake Peavy.
“Atta boy, cowboy,” added David Ross.
As Lackey gave the Red Sox what they needed, Robbie Ross (1-4) lasted 6⅔ innings but couldn’t overcome the shaky start.
Dustin Pedroia doubled to start the game before Shane Victorino curiously decided to bunt him over. Rangers manager Ron Washington then intentionally walked David Ortiz, another odd decision so early in the game.
Mike Napoli doubled to score Pedroia. Napoli has driven in 19 runs in 24 plate appearances following an intentional walk to Ortiz since the start of last season.
“The first inning against a lefty? I was kind of surprised they walked David,” Napoli said. “But when a game is on the line, do you want to pitch to him or me? If I’m managing the other side, I’m pitching to me.
“I tried to do what I always do. I was confident going up there.
“It’s happened so often, I just stick with my approach and try to get the job done.”
With two outs and runners on second and third, Pierzynski singled to right field to drive in two runs.
Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled in the second inning and was sacrificed to third by the suddenly bunt-happy Sox. Pedroia walked and the run scored when Victorino grounded into a force.
Pedroia added a home run in the seventh inning. After getting one-hit in an 8-0 loss Friday night, the Sox had 13 runs on 19 hits the next two games.
These are happy times for the Sox. With their lineup intact and the rotation stable, they’ve played closer to the standard set last season for nearly three weeks.
The Red Sox are off Monday and start a series in Minnesota Tuesday.
“Now I can go have fun with some friends at home here in a little bit,” Lackey said. “We’re playing better baseball. We have a lot of guys in this room with a lot of pretty good track records.
“You’ve got to let things play out and let the guys be who they are. I think things will end up pretty good.”Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.