SEATTLE — John Lackey won the battle with Seattle’s Dustin Ackley, getting him to hit a ground ball to the right side after an epic 13-pitch at-bat in the fourth inning on Monday night.
Short of a strikeout, it was just what Lackey needed with the bases loaded and one out. But the victory was pyrrhic.
First baseman Mike Napoli snapped the ball up and fired to second base for one out. It could have been a double play had Lackey covered first base, but he was standing on the mound.
Seattle took advantage of the mistake, scoring five runs in the inning and going on to beat the Red Sox, 12-3 at Safeco Field. The 35-42 Red Sox are 1-4 on a road trip that has five games left. Monday matched their most lopsided loss of the season as Seattle batted around twice en route to collecting 14 hits off Lackey (8-5) and two relievers.
The fielding mistake changed the tenor of what until then was a compelling matchup between Lackey and Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
The Sox had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. David Ortiz had an RBI single off Hernandez in the first and Mike Napoli a home run in the top of the fourth.
It was the ninth home run of the season for Napoli and the first allowed by Hernandez in a span of 329 batters dating back to April 21.
Lackey got the first out of the fourth inning before the game melted down.
Robinson Cano, a Red Sox killer even in a Seattle uniform, bounced a ground-rule double into the stands down the left field line. Kyle Seager followed with an RBI single to right field.
Logan Morrison singled to right and Mike Zunino walked to load the bases. Up came Ackley, an unaccomplished hitter with more than twice as many strikeouts as walks this season.
Lackey got ahead 1-and-2 but could not put him away. Ackley fouled off cutters, curveballs, fastballs, and changeups, eventually working the count to 3-and-2.
“Just trying to put a ball in play,” Ackley said. “I saw everything he had and I just kept swinging.”
After fouling off nine pitches, Ackley grounded the 13th pitch to the right of the mound. Lackey was caught watching.
“Whether or not he anticipated the ball going through the hole, Nap makes a very good backhand play, gets the lead [runner] and just a lapse there for John to receive the back end of the throw and a potential double play,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
Lackey did not give a direct answer when asked whether he should have covered first base.
“I mean, yeah, I could have gone over there for sure,” he said. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll leave that one alone.”
For whatever reason, the inning continued. With Brad Miller at the plate, Lackey bounced a curveball past catcher A.J. Pierzynski and the pitcher threw up his arms as another run scored.
Miller, a .207 hitter, walked and Willie Bloomquist singled to load the bases again.
Endy Chavez lined a curveball to right field, a ball that looked catchable off the bat. But Brock Holt, starting in right field for the seventh time in his professional career, took a poor angle to the ball and it sailed over his head for a three-run triple.
“I kind of got a late start on it,” Holt said.
Lackey had thrown 38 pitches in the inning when Farrell came to get him and he walked slowly back to the dugout.
Farrell thought the Ackley at-bat impacted the rest of the inning.
“Any time you get into an extended at-bat like that, there’s a little bit of frustration that’s going to take over. He still makes a good pitch to record the out but … we’re only able to get the one out,” he said.
Farrell and a trainer went to the mound to check on Lackey after Ackley’s grounder. Farrell and Lackey said later there was no physical issue but the pitcher may have a sore back given his cautious movements.
Lackey had not allowed seven earned runs in a start since last Sept. 7 against the Yankees. Prior to that, it was before he had Tommy John elbow surgery following the 2011 season.
The six runs were the most allowed by the Red Sox in an inning this season. Sox starters had gone 11 consecutive games without allowing more than three earned runs.
“I’m not going to panic over one inning,” Lackey said. “I think we’ll be all right.”
Given a 7-2 lead, Hernandez cruised through the next three innings to improve to 9-2. He is 5-1 with a 1.48 earned run average over his last eight starts.
Chris Capuano, who had pitched once since June 11, was sacrificed for 2⅓ innings and 52 pitches. He allowed five runs on six hits with Morrison belting a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
Capuano has appeared in five games this month and allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits over four innings. With the season sliding away, his hold on a roster spot may be tenuous.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.