There wasn’t much else John Lackey could do once he walked off the mound after the ninth inning.
He had handcuffed the Minnesota Twins, striking out nine and giving up just three hits.
It was one of the best starts of his career. Only five other times had Lackey gone nine innings and given up three hits or fewer, and not surprisingly he walked off with the win on each occasion.
But when his work was done on Wednesday afternoon, the game was still in the balance
Lackey wasn’t necessarily opposed to coming out for the 10th.
“He had more than done his job,” manager John Farrell said.
When Chris Parmelee drilled a 1-and-2 splitter from Koji Uehara for the two-out homer that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in the top of the 10th, Lackey was no longer a part of the equation.
The game then hinged on the Red Sox’ offense.
“We haven’t been able to produce for our pitching,” said David Ortiz. “Our pitching has been outstanding lately and we just haven’t been able to hit.”
Even though they were 1 for 29 at that point, when Farrell looked at the batters he had coming up in the bottom of the 10th — Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, and Mike Napoli — he liked his chances of getting a run.
After playing a season-long game of cat and mouse with the big hit, the Sox didn’t just get one, they got two.
Ortiz shot a 2-and-2 slider just in side Pesky’s Pole to tie it, and Napoli launched a 0-and-2 fastball out to deep center, as the Red Sox walked off with a 2-1 win.
“They take the lead and we’re fortunate we’re in the part of the order we are to be able to have two swings of the bat and turn the tides and walk things off,” Farrell said. “When those guys are right it’s a formidable middle of the order.”
It felt like forever since the Sox had hit back-to-back home runs, but it was only April.
“I can’t tell you the last time we went back to back,” Farrell said. “It’s been a while. It couldn’t have been better timing.”
The celebration when Napoli tossed his helmet toward the home plate and barreled into the pile of teammates there to meet him was a cocktail of exhilaration and relief in this claustrophobic stretch of five straight one-run games.
“We’re playing the most one-run games in the major leagues, so this isn’t new to us by any means,” Farrell said. “I will say that the guys that walk to the mound, they know that their execution and consistency is key, is critical. But one-run games, we’re not trying to go out there by design. We’re grinding away as best we can.”
The Sox are 11-15 in those games and 5-6 in walkoffs.
“We play a lot of close games,” Napoli said. “I don’t know what it is, but it just might be the thing this year. We’ve got to do a better job of winning the one-run games.”
It was the first time in Sox history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that the Sox swept a three-game series by scoring just five runs.
Twins starter Kyle Gibson had the Sox on a leash for seven innings, retiring the first 14 batters he faced and allowing a career-low one hit.
“I’ll tell you what, that kid that pitched for them today, very impressive,” Ortiz said. “For a young kid to have that sense of knowing what he’s doing and spotting his pitches the way he did, very impressive. I mean, this guy was spotting every pitch he threw. That’s why he threw so well.”
Lackey became the first Red Sox starter to throw nine shutout innings without earning a win since Matt Young did it against the Indians in 1991. It was Lackey’s 12th quality start this season, and in his last six starts his ERA is 1.60.
Getting the win — even if it doesn’t show up in Lackey’s record — was important for the offense.
“Lack’s been pitching real well, man,” Oritz said. “We just haven’t been able to produce for him. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of starting to score some runs for our pitching. They’re pitching their tail off out there.”
With a 10-game road swing through Oakland, Seattle, and New York on the horizon, the walkoff win ensured the Red Sox would pack some momentum.
“We’re going to have a happy flight,” Ortiz said. “Long flight, want to make sure we win it. Hopefully things change, man. Hopefully things get better. We just won three games, even not being able to offensively do what we would like to do, but I guess this can be a turnaround.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.