Send him to the 10th.
Was that the temptation facing Red Sox manager John Farrell after John Lackey’s nine scoreless innings in Wednesday’s cathartic 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park?
Lackey (8-4, 2.96), searching for his American League-leading sixth home win, had pitched almost flawlessly: three hits, no earned runs, nine strikeouts, one walk. His pitch count was at 105, 74 of them strikes, and he had just thrown nine scoreless innings for the 10th time in his career, the first for the Red Sox.
Boston’s offense was dormant, once again. So Farrell had a choice: Send him out to the 10th or let his arm rest?
He chose the latter.
“He had more than done his job,” said the manager. “He pitched outstanding today. No temptation.”
Lackey, who became the first Sox pitcher to throw nine shutout innings without earning the win since 1991, would have gone out with no hesitation.
“If you want to leave me in,” he said in the festive clubhouse after the game, “I’ll stay.”
He didn’t, but it’s telling that few questions would have been asked had he taken the mound in the 10th. Such was his authority on this sun-soaked weekday.
It started early. In the first inning, Lackey — throwing 15 pitches, all fastballs, and 13 strikes — induced two fly outs and a grounder. One, two, three, and the Sox were batting.
“He was powerful from the first pitch of the game through the 105th one he threw,” Farrell said. “He’s been so good with command of the baseball. High percentage of strikes.
“He was able to throw his breaking ball to slow some hitters down. He’s been outstanding for us all year.”
His first non-fastball arrived in the second inning, on his 27th pitch. After Chris Parmelee — who pumped three of the Twins’ four hits, including the go-ahead homer to right-center in the 10th — singled to center, Lackey struck out third baseman Eduardo Escobar on three pitches: fastball, curveball, cutter.
He peppered seven more strikeouts throughout the next seven innings, relying mostly on his fastball and his teammates’ defensive elegance.
“That’s what we’ve been accustomed to seeing here,” Farrell said. “And that’s not to take him for granted by any means.”
In the sixth, Twins center fielder Danny Santana laid down a bunt. Dustin Pedroia sprinted to the ball, scooped it up with his glove, and flipped it to Mike Napoli. It beat Santana, and Lackey induced a ground out three pitches later to end the inning.
In the eighth, after Escobar slapped a liner to left field for the Twins’ last hit against Lackey and tried to stretch a sure single into a dubious double, Daniel Nava fired to second. The throw beat Escobar, and Pedroia tagged him for the inning’s second out. Lackey struck out the next batter on four pitches.
It was the least his teammates could do. The Sox’ offense generated three hits. Two of them — David Ortiz and Napoli’s back-to-back home runs — came in the 10th inning.
The entire order was confounded by Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who pitched seven shutout innings and allowed only one hit.
But Lackey was undisturbed by the dearth of offensive production.
“The whole series has kind of been like that,” he said. “I knew their kid coming in was throwing the ball really well. I knew it was going to be a challenge for our offense, and he threw great again today.
“I was able to keep us in it long enough, and the boys came through in the end.”
One of those boys was the walkoff hero, Napoli, who is 8 for 15 in Lackey’s last four starts in which he’s played.
“It was brought to my attention by Pedey the other day,” Napoli said, “that my production on Lackey’s days is pretty good.”
It wasn’t, before his game-winning blast — Napoli was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts entering the inning — but the pitcher was OK with that.
“I was just happy for my boy,” Lackey said. “It’s fun to see friends do well.
“He’s a guy . . . we’ve been through a lot of battles, a lot of big games. And he seems to always come through when you need it.”
On Wednesday, so did Lackey.