The game Saturday night against the Tigers was only an inning old and John Lackey found himself taking a lap around the mound, almost having his own personal meeting.
It was frustrating enough seeing Victor Martinez slap a ground ball to the left side of the infield, where the Sox had only one person.
But with Austin Jackson at the plate, Lackey was trying to set the GPS on his fastball and it just wouldn’t listen.
The first one he tried to aim down and away but it raced off the plate.
The second one found the corner but was just below Jackson’s knees.
He took some time to gather himself before he stepped back on the mound.
“Probably just trying to get it together and limit some damage there,” he said.
He uncorked another fastball, down and away, that just nicked the corner of the strike zone. But plate umpire Clint Fagan wasn’t going to do him any favors.
Three pitches in, he was behind, 3 and 0, and even though he turned it into a 10-pitch battle, it ended with Jackson taking a walk.
A single and an Alex Avila ground out later, the Tigers had their first run on the board. Detroit was able to sew together runs, cashing in on scoring opportunities big and small in its 6-1 win at Fenway Park while Lackey struggled to throw strikes with his fastball in a way that he hasn’t all season.
“It is a rarity,” said Sox manger John Farrell. “Because he’s done so well with using the big part of the ballpark in center field and right field. Whether it was the tendency to rush a little bit where his arm wouldn’t catch up, that’s a possibility, but the consistent fastball location wasn’t as we’ve seen for just about every start this season for John.”
In the third inning, after Lackey had Miguel Cabrera down, 0 and 2, with two outs and nobody on when Cabrera skied a fly ball to right field that barely sneaked inside the Pesky Pole for a solo homer.
By the fifth, the Tigers were jumping at Lackey’s heater as soon as they saw it. Ian Kinsler shot a first-pitch fastball to right for a one-out double, Torii Hunter followed with a double to score Kinsler, and Cabrera shot a second-pitch heater to center for a single to score Hunter.
“That kind of happens a lot to me,” Lackey said. “One of the things I do is I throw a lot of first-pitch strikes. I might need to make a few adjustments, for sure. But they were definitely aggressive in that inning.’’
Each one was about belt-high, and if Lackey could’ve taken them back, he would have.
“Just didn’t get to some locations there in the fifth inning,” Lackey said. “That was pretty much really the inning that I’d like to take back, to do better in. I just didn’t locate some balls in that inning, for sure.”
Before Lackey knew it, his team was in a four-run hole.
The Sox have struggled to recover when falling behind — they’ve lost 17 of the 22 games in which their opponent scored first.
Lackey (5-3) hadn’t given up more than two runs in any of his previous four starts. He was 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA and 29 strikeouts and only four walks in that stretch. He lasted 5⅓ innings Saturday night — his shortest outing since mid-April — giving up six runs (five earned) on nine hits.
Cabrera went 3 for 5, extending his hitting streak to eight games. Martinez went 2 for 5, extending his to seven.
On the flip side, after being shut out Friday, the Sox again struggled to put runs together against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (7-1), who came in riding a five-game winning streak during which he had posted a 2.84 ERA with 21 strikeouts.
Porcello’s had his struggles at Fenway. He entered 1-3 lifetime with a 10.42 ERA in five starts in Boston.
When he pitched there last September, he was shelled for nine runs on seven hits and three homers.
But on Saturday, he muzzled the Sox lineup, with a Xander Bogaerts homer in the fifth inning the only damage.
Scoring chances were slim (the Sox went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position) and the Sox stranded six runners.
The Sox had only one real threat, loading the bases in the fourth before A.J. Pierzynski grounded to second.
David Ortiz (1 for 4) extended his hit streak to 10 games with a fourth-inning single. Mike Napoli (3 for 4) had two singles.
“The way Porcello’s been pitching all season and again tonight with early runs, we find ourselves behind and one real scoring threat in the fourth inning, we come up empty and that was pretty much the story here tonight,’’ Farrell said.