Lackey finds his best stuff at right time

John Lackey has a sub-.500 record this season, and the Red Sox are 14-14 in his 28 starts. But it has been a triumphant return to form for the right-hander.

John Lackey

LackeyLackey, who has come up big in postseasons past, was on the mound for the win that clinched a playoff spot for the Red Sox on Thursday night.

Lackey took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and pitched a complete-game two-hitter. He allowed only one run, dropping his ERA to 3.44. He will almost surely finish the year with his best single-season ERA since 2007, when he had an AL-best 3.01 ERA for the Angels.

Lackey has won at least 10 games in each of the last 10 seasons in which he’s pitched (he missed 2012 with Tommy John Surgery). The one season he didn’t win 10 games was in 2002, when he won nine as a rookie and then won Game 7 to clinch the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

This start on Thursday was arguably Lackey’s best game of the season. He was credited with a Bill James Game Score of 85, tied for his fourth-best in any start in his career and his best since July 19, 2009 against the Athletics.

How Lackey won

For the first time in the last five seasons, Lackey threw only two different pitches: 90 fastballs and 23 sliders. His 80 percent fastballs was his highest percentage in a start over that five-season span.

Orioles hitters missed on eight of their 12 swings vs Lackey's slider (67 percent), his third-highest miss rate on the pitch since 2009 (minimum 15 sliders thrown). Orioles hitters swung and missed on all three of the sliders they saw with two strikes.

Lackey worked away from Orioles hitters, especially to right-handed hitters. He threw 45 pitches to righties and only one was inside, his fewest over the last five seasons.

Lackey started 25 of 31 hitters (81 percent) with a first-pitch strike, his third highest percentage this season. He tied a season-high with nine 0-2 counts and would strike out six of those nine hitters.

Did You Know?

Lackey is one of seven pitchers whose careers began in the last 40 seasons to record a double-digit victory total in 10 of the first 11 seasons in which he pitched. The others are Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle and CC Sabathia.