It was something Lackey had done all afternoon. In the fourth he walked Jose Bautista and gave up a single to Vernon Wells. But with two pitches, he was out of trouble, thanks to a double play and a fly out to right.
In the sixth, Fred Lewis doubled and Yunel Escobar singled. It took only three pitches this time; a double play (which scored a run) and a grounder to third had Lackey walking back to the dugout.
Daniel Bard was warming a little bit in the top of the eighth, when the Sox scored their fifth run. Lackey retired the Jays in order on nine pitches in the bottom of the eighth and had thrown 91 pitches going into the ninth.
In Lackey's 23 starts before Thursday, he had thrown 105+ pitches in 18 of them, and he had topped 120 four times. Having him start the ninth was obvious. Pulling him after giving up a dong to Bautista, who leads the majors in dongs, was not.
If Lackey can be trusted with a 5-2 lead at 91 pitches, why not a 5-3 lead at 98 pitches? Also, how long had Papelbon been warming up for? He may have been rushed and was unable to settle into a groove on the mound. Bard was likely more ready (and the better pitcher). (This SoSH thread has some evidence that Papelbon has serious trouble when brought in mid-inning.)
As we saw, Papelbon had absolutely nothing. He faced six batters and allowed two singles, two doubles, an intentional walk, and a strikeout. It was foolish for Francona to stay with him and hope he lucked into another out or two before Toronto tied or won the game. After he allowed a double and two singles and been hit by Aaron Hill's batted ball, Tito should have gone to Bard. It was 5-4 and there were runners on first and third, with no outs. But it seems that Francona will not pull his closer while the Sox are still ahead.
It just seemed every one of my pitches today was up in the zone in a pressure situation ... You want to finish games -- that's my job. ... I didn't have much power or energy in my delivery today. It was just kind of a groggy day for me.Honestly, it's a tough call all around: Lackey should have been given a chance to finish the game. And Papelbon should have been able to save a 5-3 game. And Francona should have seen that Bot had zip and gone to Bard earlier.
It's a win the Red Sox should have had -- and every win is precious at this point. The Yankees held off a ninth-inning rally from the Royals and won 4-3, pushing Boston 6 GB. Tampa Bay was off, so the Red Sox are now 4 GB for the WC, with the White Sox 5.5 GB.
Boston has 46 games to play.