OAKLAND -- General manager Ben Cherington hopes he made the Red Sox bullpen better by trading for a left-handed reliever, Matt Thornton of the White Sox, a deal that was announced here in the second inning.
John Farrell hopes he made the Sox bullpen better by trusting Andrew Bailey in the eighth inning of a tight game Friday night, and being rewarded when Bailey walked off the mound in jubilation after striking out Jed Lowrie and Yoenis Cespedes to end the inning after a leadoff walk.
And the Sox, behind another strong start by John Lackey and a two-out, two-run single in the top of the eighth by Dustin Pedroia, made it four straight wins on this West Coast swing with a 4-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics before a crowd of 27,084 in the O.co Coliseum. The victory ended Boston's six-game losing streak in this dumpy edifice.
Bailey has now strung together four straight scoreless appearances (5 1/3 innings) with seven strikeouts. This, after giving up runs in five straight appearances, a career high, part of a stretch in which he gave up 5 home runs in just 5 innings of work.
Farrell had said before the game that he had reached the point where he would trust Bailey to save games again, though he wasn’t ready to declare that Bailey would re-inherit a job that had gone to Koji Uehara during his meltdown.
“If Andrew continues to emerge, puts together and strings outings together like he is and Koji continues to have clean ninth innings, I don't necessarily want to just change for the sake of change, either," Farrell said.
Uehara struck out the side in the ninth, as he and Bailey combined to whiff the last five Oakland hitters. Uehara was credited with his eighth save.
While the bullpen sorts itself out, it’s hard to imagine that the Sox would be a season-best 21 games over .500 without Lackey, who has now given up 3 earned runs or fewer in 14 of his 16 starts, and has gone seven innings or more in each of his last six starts.
The Sox are just 8-8 in his starts (he is now 7-6), but even on a night in which he walked four and hit a batter, matching the number of walks he had allowed in his previous five starts combined, he has been a bullpen-saver and given Boston a chance to win in virtually every game he has pitched.
"Where would we be without him at this point? No," Farrell said. "It would be a gaping hole, just as it is with Clay (Buchholz) being out. He's done so much work, so much commitment to getting himself prepared for this season. Fortunately we didn't run into anything prolonged early in the season (when Lackey went on the DL with biceps tendinitis). He's been a mainstay, obviously, since he's come back to us."
The Sox took a 2-0 lead on Brock Holt’s two-run single in the second before Athletics starter Jarrod Parker set down the next 16 batters in a row. The Athletics scored in the fifth on a double by Seth Smith and a single by John Jaso, and tied it in the sixth on a home run by former Sox infielder Jed Lowrie.
But Jose Iglesias opened the eighth with a single off Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle, took second on Holt’s sacrifice and advanced to third on Jacoby Ellsbury’s infield out. Doolittle then hit Shane Victorino in the right wrist with a pitch. Victorino remained in the game and stole second without drawing a throw, and Pedroia lined a single off reliever Ryan Cook, who had replaced Doolittle after the Victorino at-bat.