Red Sox

Lackey shouldering load for Red Sox

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Lackey shouldering load for Red Sox

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Things might just be turning around for John Lackey, and it couldnt be happening at a better time for the Sox.

With both Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester on the disabled list, leaving Boston with a patchwork starting rotation, Lackey has stepped in and stepped up for his ballclub.

The much-maligned right-hander did it again Friday night with seven innings of one-run ball against a Seattle Mariners team that admittedly cant swing the lumber violently enough to navigate their way out of a brown paper sack.

But wins count against those teams as well, and Lackeys teams are 11-2 in their last 13 games against Seattle.

Lackey did what he does best while balancing his season record to 8-8, and pathetic Ms offense notwithstanding pounded the zone with his fastball, change and curveball offerings in the 7-4 victory at Fenway Park.

Sure Lackey allowed eight hits to a terrible group of hitters in those innings, but he also continued a consistently solid body of work since escaping the 15-day disabled list in June.

With Buchholz still unable to pitch off a mound this weekend and Lester not coming back until Monday, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder is now 6-3 since getting a cortisone shot before coming off the DL in early June. Sure there were a couple of stinkers thrown in there against the Blue Jays and Padres that has jacked the ERA up a little bit, but Lackey has been throwing strikes, eating up innings and winning ballgames as he was always advertised to do before arriving in Boston.

Its the recent string of solid Lackey performances combined with the returning injured pitchers that should have the Red Sox looking in another department when it comes to trade deadline upgrades.

The Sox appear pretty set in their starting rotation, and Lackey certainly has had plenty to do with that. The Mariners scratched for a single run in the first inning, but Lackey protected a slim lead before the Sox offense exploded for five runs in the decisive bottom of the seventh inning.

I felt pretty good. Going against Felix Hernandez youve got to pitch well, and I commanded my off-speed pretty well, said Lackey. That might have been my best changeup of the year, so thats been nice. Weve had some guys hurt, and its been nice to step up for sure at a time when weve needed it.

Im just going to go out there and try to win every time I get a chance. I feel good, but Im not going to get too far ahead of myself.

Lackey is 6-3 with a 4.99 ERA in nine starts since coming off the DL, but the bigger number to factor in is the 4411 strikeouts-to-walks ratio for a control-craving righty thats simply challenging offenses to hit him.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has watched Lackey battle the haters and pitch through personal issues this season when pretty much everyone expected the burly righty to fold up the tent. But Lackey has kept on trucking every fifth day on the mound, and thats earned him a wealth of respect in the Sox clubhouse.

While some pro athletes can be looked at as slow healers or guys unwilling to play unless theyre 100 percent healthy, Lackey isnt one of those players.

Hes never lost it. Hes had really bad luck to be honest with you, said Saltalamacchia. Hed go three solid starts and then go 3-0 and then hed have the one bad outing and everybody would write him off and start talking about him, said Saltalamacchia. Thats tough. I cant imagine what hes been through this year, but hes a professional. He grabs the ball every fifth day no matter whats going on around him. He just does his job.

Hes gonna pitch through discomfort. Hes gonna pitch through pain. Thats just what he does. He just steps up. He does an unbelievable job.

Thats the kind of command and daring confidence that Lackey always exhibits when feeling healthy and full of pitching gusto, and thats the guy Terry Francona has seen over the last couple of months.

Hes also the guy he hopes to continue seeing over the final few months of the season with the Sox ensconced in first place atop the American League East.

I thought he was tremendous, said Francona of Lackey. He threw strikes. He really pitched. His stuff to me is the same. Hes been pretty consistent, especially since he came back from the disabled list. I just think he needs to locate. When he doesnt he gives up hits. When he does then he gets guys out. I think its as simple as that.

I know his ERA is higher. I know what it is. Its probably going to be higher than he wants it at the end of the year. But I know if he pitches like this the rest of the year then its huge for us. I think thats what were hanging our hat on. I think he is too. He has an ability to be a really good pitcher and shoulder a big burden Thats what it looks like he wants to do.

The Sox even benefitted from the Texas high school football upbringing that saw Lackey go through double-session practices in 110 degree heat that made Friday nights steamy conditions feel downright comfortable in comparison.

With 96 degree temperatures when Lackey tossed his first pitch against the Ms offense on Friday night, it seems the embattled righty was the coolest guy in the ballpark while continuing to dig his way out of what appeared to be a lost season.

Hes not all the way out yet, but Lackeys ditch isnt getting deeper either.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.