Red Sox pitcher Lackey finds groove in 7-0 win over Angels

Posted April 24, 2011, at 6:58 p.m.
Last modified April 24, 2011, at 10:24 p.m.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — John Lackey kept the line moving — a variation on one of Boston manager Terry Francona’s favorite expressions regarding his potent batting order. Only this time, it has to do with the Red Sox’s starting rotation.

Lackey beat his former team again with eight superb innings, Carl Crawford hit his first home run in a Boston uniform, and the Red Sox completed a pitching-dominated four-game sweep of the Angels on Sunday with a 7-0 victory that extended their winning streak to five.

The Red Sox extended their streak to nine consecutive games in which their starting pitcher has gone at least five innings and allowed fewer than three runs. The rotation, which has a 0.88 ERA during this stretch, tied the longest such streak in franchise history, set in 1946.

“Sure, there’s definitely a sense of not wanting to be the guy to stop the streak,” Lackey said. “It’s a pretty good run, but it’s not unexpected. We’ve got some guys here with some pretty good track records.”

Lackey (2-2) scattered six hits, struck out six and stranded eight baserunners, becoming the third straight Boston starter to hold the Angels scoreless. The right-hander’s solid outing came on the heels of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s eight innings of one-hit ball in Saturday night’s 5-0 victory.

Josh Beckett allowed two runs and just three hits over eight innings in the series opener before the Red Sox won 4-2 in 11. The next night, Jon Lester gave up four hits in six scoreless innings of a 4-3 win, helping Boston’s rotation carve out a minuscule 0.60 ERA in the series. The only blemish was Torii Hunter’s two-run homer off Beckett.

“I think it obviously helps to see somebody do it. You just try to follow it and not screw it up,” Lester said after Sunday’s game. “We’re just executing pitches right now. That’s the main thing. We’re very confident. We just have to stay healthy. We’ve been in this position before with a good rotation and weren’t able to stay healthy, which didn’t get us anywhere. So if everyone keeps taking their turn everything should take care of itself.”

Lackey, who spent his first eight big league seasons with the Halos and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie, is 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts against them. Two of those wins have come at Angel Stadium, where Lackey is 51-32 with a 3.93 ERA in 114 starts, including a 4-2 victory for the Red Sox last July 27.

“I’ve won a few games in this stadium for sure,” said Lackey, who left Anaheim to sign a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract with the Red Sox in December 2009. “This is a great place to pitch, especially with that ocean air coming through here a little bit. So you’ve got to hit it pretty good. It’s nice to come back here and see some guys you know. But, really, if you look at their lineup today, there’s not too many guys that I played with for an extended period of time.”

Adrian Gonzalez had three hits and two RBIs for the Red Sox, who have won 13 of 14 games against the Angels since Los Angeles swept them in the 2009 AL division series. The sweep dropped the Halos’ record to 12-10.

“We’ve squeaked out about as many wins as you could expect from having so many issues on the offensive side right now,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Do we need more offense? Yes. Are we lucky to be where we are? No. I don’t think it’s luck. I mean, it’s not luck when you guys like Jered Weaver and Dan Haren pitching as well as they are.”

Neither Haren nor Weaver pitched Sunday, however. Matt Palmer (1-1) allowed four runs and six hits in five-plus innings.

Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox in December after setting career highs with 19 homers and 90 RBIs last season for Tampa Bay, made it 6-0 in the sixth with a drive to right-center on a full count against Hisanori Takahashi after Kevin Youkilis chased Palmer with a leadoff single. Crawford’s homer came in his 81st at-bat with the Red Sox.

“It just felt good to hit the ball hard and have it leave the yard,” Crawford said. “I was just glad I got the first one out of the way and was able to do something good to help the team. I’ve been feeling a little bit better, but I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m still in a grind mode.”

A light but steady rain pelted Angel Stadium all morning, but the only part of the infield that was covered was the mound, and the first pitch was delayed 5 minutes. The Angels have been rained out at home only 15 times in franchise history and 10 times since moving down to Anaheim. The last rainout was June 16, 1995, against the Chicago White Sox. The Red Sox have never been rained out in Southern California.

Lackey, who came in with a 9.82 ERA in his first three starts, had already missed a turn in the rotation when Boston’s scheduled home game against Tampa Bay on April 13 was rained out. He didn’t like it, and he’s used that disappointment to fuel his competitive fire.

“That’s the first time I’ve pitched in the rain here, I think,” Lackey said with a grin. “It was pretty crazy to warm up in the rain. But I’ve played in Boston for more than a year now, so I’ve gotten used to throwing in the rain.”

NOTES: This was Boston’s first four-game sweep at Anaheim since June 1980. The Red Sox swept a four-game set from the Angels last May at Fenway Park, outscoring them 36-16. … Angels 2B Maicer Izturis was a late scratch because of a sore left hamstring.

In Saturday night’s game, Matsuzaka pitched eight innings against the Angels and gave up only one hit — in self-defense.

The righthander struck out nine in a nearly flawless performance and got home run support from Kevin Youkilis in the victory. Even Jason Varitek helped out his batterymate with an RBI double that snapped an 0-for-19 drought.

The only hit off Matsuzaka (2-2) came with one out in the second — a vicious line drive back to the box by Alberto Callaspo that deflected off Matsuzaka’s glove as he tried to protect his face and caromed off his glove to shortstop Jed Lowrie. Callaspo just beat Lowrie’s throw to first.

“He battled a little bit with his command early, but he was able to still make a completion pitch when he was battling,” Varitek said. “At other times he was executing pitches beautifully. He had a real good changeup that was able to slow down a lot of bats.”

Matsuzaka, who came within one strikeout of matching his career high, was coming off a 9-1 win last Monday at Fenway Park in which he held Toronto to one hit over seven innings. That victory ended a career-worst stretch of seven straight winless starts for the five-year veteran, who came in with a career 5.88 ERA against the Angels — including the postseason.

“He was hitting his spots, and it looked like those guys weren’t feeling comfortable at the plate,” Youkilis said. “When he goes out there and throws strikes and throws it where he wants to and get ahead, that’s what he can do.”

Los Angeles’ only other hit was an infield single to deep shortstop by Erick Aybar against Daniel Bard leading off the ninth, but the right-hander came back to strike out Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter before retiring Vernon Wells on a grounder to second.

“We’re in a little tough streak right now,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Those guys are pitching well, but we have to do a better job against good pitching. We haven’t been able to do it in this series. We were trying to work the counts on Matsuzaka and drew a few walks, but for the most part, he had good command and we paid a price for it.”

The Red Sox extended their streak to eight consecutive games in which their starting pitcher has gone at least five innings and allowed fewer than three runs. The rotation, which has a 1.01 during this stretch, is one game away from tying the longest such streak in franchise history, set in 1946.

“I think they’re all feeding off each other a little bit,” manager Terry Francona said. “Getting some stability and consistency in the rotation really helps.”

Ervin Santana (0-3) gave up five runs and nine hits in seven innings, raising his ERA to 5.51. It’s the first time in the right-hander’s seven-year career that he has gone winless in his first five starts. Last season he was 17-10, and in 2008 he started out 6-0 in seven starts.

With second baseman Howie Kendrick, catcher Jeff Mathis and center fielder Peter Bourjos all getting rested, Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s shuffled his lineup and had Hank Conger, Mark Trumbo and Reggie Willits filling out the bottom three spots in the batting order. The trio was a combined 0 for 8 with six strikeouts.

“We battled as much as we could, but (Matsuzaka) was just better,” Trumbo said. “He used his split-finger more to left-handed hitters, and to the right-handed hitters he threw more sliders. But it really didn’t matter. He was on. It was kind of hard to establish a trend with him.”

Boston took a 2-0 lead with Carl Crawford’s RBI single in the second inning and a run-scoring single by Adrian Gonzalez in the third. It was only the fourth RBI for Crawford in his first 75 at-bats with the Red Sox, who signed the four-time All-Star to a seven-year, $142 million free-agent contract in December after he drove in a career-high 90 runs last season for Tampa Bay.

Youkilis made it 4-0 in the fifth with a two-out opposite-field homer to right-center after a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Varitek, who came in 1 for 17 lifetime against Santana, got his long-awaited hit after striking out and grounding out his first two times up. The three-time All-Star started in the ninth spot in the order for the first time since April 11, 2009, at Anaheim.

SATURDAY NOTES: The Red Sox have seven stolen bases during the first three games of this four-game series, as many as they had during their first 17 games. … Matsuzaka made his fourth career regular-season start against the Angels and first in Anaheim. He also faced the Halos twice in the postseason, getting no-decisions in 2008 at the Big A and 2007 at Fenway Park. … Matsuzaka also pitched at Angel Stadium in the 2006 World Baseball Classic for Japan, beating Mexico in the semifinals with five scoreless innings for one of his three victories — and winning MVP honors for the tournament.

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