OAKLAND, Calif. — The Red Sox played some of their worst baseball last season at Oakland Coliseum, which is saying something. The Athletics swept all six games from the Sox at their ballpark, often embarrassing them.
The Red Sox returned Friday night with a much different team and the results changed, too. John Lackey pitched seven strong innings and Dustin Pedroia had the key hit and defensive play as the Sox beat the Athletics, 4-2, before an energetic crowd of 27,084.
That’s four wins in a row for the Red Sox, who extended their lead on Tampa Bay in the American League East to 4½ games. At 58-37, they are 21 games over .500 for the first time this season.
The Sox are 5-3 on a West Coast trip that has two games remaining. They also obtained lefthanded reliever Matt Thornton from the Chicago White Sox.
“Great night for us,” Pedroia said.
Lackey said he didn’t have his best stuff. But he allowed two runs on three hits with four walks and five strikeouts to improve to 7-6. He has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last six starts and not allowed more than two earned runs.
“Honestly, tonight it was kind of a grind,” Lackey said. “I didn’t really feel as good as I have the last four or five times But I was able to grind through it.”
Lackey has a 2.32 earned run average over his last 10 starts and a 2.78 on the season. It’s hard to say where the Red Sox would be without him but it likely would not be first place.
“It would be a gaping hole,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s done so much work. So much commitment to getting himself prepared for this season.”
Pedroia was 2 for 4 with a two-run single in the eighth inning that gave the Sox the lead. He also made a defensive play that saved a run in the fifth inning.
Andrew Bailey continued to pitch well, throwing a scoreless eighth inning. He has pitched 5⅓ scoreless innings in his last four outings, allowing two hits and striking out seven.
Koji Uehara struck out the side for his eighth save.
The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Oakland starter Jarrod Parker.
Mike Napoli led off with a ground ball to third base that was initially misplayed by Josh Donaldson. He still had time to throw Napoli out, but his throw went wild and Napoli ended up on second base.
Daniel Nava was then hit by a pitch that glanced off his helmet and struck umpire C.B. Bucknor square in the mask. Bucknor left the game and there was a delay of several minutes so second base umpire Bill Miller could suit up and get behind the plate.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia flied deep to center and the runners advanced. With two outs, rookie Brock Holt singled to left field and two runs scored. Holt has seven RBIs in seven games since joining the Red Sox from Triple A Pawtucket.
Parker retired the next 16 batters before leaving the game after seven innings and 93 pitches.
Lefthander Sean Doolittle replaced Parker. Iglesias greeted him with a single down the line in right. Holt then bunted Iglesias to second base.
Ellsbury grounded to second and Iglesias took third. Doolittle then hit Shane Victorino on his right wrist with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball. It was the first time Doolittle has hit a batter in 85 career appearances.
Victorino stayed in the game, but Doolittle didn’t. Oakland brought in righthander Ryan Cook to face Pedroia.
After Victorino stole second, Pedroia slapped a hanging slider into left field for a two-run single.
“[Cook] has great stuff. His slider’s pretty darn good and he throws upper 90s. I always hit off the fastball and I kept my hands back and was able to hit it on the barrel,” Pedroia said.
Lackey didn’t allow a hit over the first four innings. Oakland broke through in the fifth. Smith doubled off the wall in left field to start the inning and took third on a ground out. Coco Crisp walked before John Jaso singled in a run.
Crisp went to third when Victorino bobbled the ball in right. Donaldson followed with a hard-hit ball up the middle. From his knees, Pedroia grabbed the ball and started a double play that ended the inning and saved a run.
“It was either make the play or die. That ball was smoked,” Lackey said.
Said Pedroia: “It was self defense.”
Oakland tied the game in the sixth inning when Jed Lowrie homered to right field. It was his seventh of the season and his first against the Red Sox, the team that drafted and developed him.
Lackey retired the next six batters.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.