After a disappointing start, John Lackey feels like he's throwing the ball as well as any time during his successful career.
The right-hander hopes for another strong start while trying to help the Boston Red Sox avoid a seventh consecutive road loss to the Oakland Athletics in a matchup of division leaders Friday night.
Returning from elbow surgery that erased his entire 2012 season and a biceps strain that sidelined him for most of April, Lackey started 1-4 with a 4.05 ERA. Since then, he's 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 10 starts.
"It's probably the best first half I've had," said the 34-year-old Lackey, who possibly forgot about going 11-5 with a 2.91 ERA before the break in 2007.
Lackey (6-6, 2.80) lost for the first time in seven starts Sunday, allowing two solo homers among five hits and striking out nine in seven innings of a 3-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels .
"John's pitching as well as he has I think at any point in time in his career - and that's not to shortchange anything he did early on," manager John Farrell said. "But he's in a very good place right now."
Lackey is 18-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 33 starts against the Athletics (54-38), going 8-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 outings in Oakland. He's dropped two straight there despite a 2.77 ERA.
The AL East-leading Red Sox (57-37) scored 30 runs to win the final three of a four-game set at Seattle, coming away with an 8-7, 10-inning victory Thursday after trailing by four runs early.
"We continue to grind away and play it right to the last out," Farrell said.
Boston took two of three at home from the A's in May but has dropped 16 of 20 at Oakland and been outscored 45-10 during its slide there.
Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .413 with two homers and 11 RBIs during his AL-high 19-game hitting streak, but he's 4 for 34 in his last nine at Oakland.
Teammate Daniel Nava 's only hit in six at-bats Thursday drove home the go-ahead run with two outs in the 10th. He's hit .375 in his last seven games but is 3 for 17 on the road against the A's.
Owner of a one-game lead over Texas in the AL West, Oakland has won 10 of 14 overall and 18 of 22 at home. The A's lost 5-0 at Pittsburgh on Wednesday to conclude a 4-2 trip.
Coco Crisp had three hits in that game but is batting .156 (5 for 32) with two homers against Lackey.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson went 5 for 9 with three doubles and four RBIs at Boston in May.
Scheduled Oakland starter Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.04) went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA against the Red Sox last season.
The right-hander is 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA in his last eight starts, but the A's have totaled seven runs while losing his last three. After leaving his previous outing with hamstring tightness, Parker allowed three runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-3 loss at Kansas City on Saturday.
"I'm semi-happy with the health stuff," Parker told the Athletics' official website. "It felt OK. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't affect my stuff though."
|Boston Red Sox|
|July 09, 2013||Alex Wilson||15-Day DL||Sprained right thumb|
|July 08, 2013||Jacoby Ellsbury||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|July 07, 2013||Andrew Miller||15-Day DL||Left foot surgery - out for season|
|June 29, 2013||Stephen Drew||15-Day DL||Right hamstring tightness|
|June 28, 2013||Stephen Drew||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hamstring tightness|
|June 23, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left game - back|
|June 29, 2013||Jarrod Parker||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hamstring cramp|
|June 20, 2013||Derek Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - groin injury|
|June 11, 2013||Yoenis Cespedes||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|May 07, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|May 06, 2013||Jarrod Parker||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained neck|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- There was a time earlier this season when the Boston Red Sox struggled to drive in runs with two outs.
Suddenly, that seems like a long time ago.
Dustin Pedroia hit a tiebreaking, two-run single in the eighth inning, and the Red Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 4-2 on Friday night in a matchup between the AL's top teams.
Brock Holt also drove in two runs - and also with two outs - in the second inning before the A's rallied. Eleven of Boston's last 13 runs have come with two outs.
"There's no secret," said Pedroia, who also made a run-saving stop at second base to start a double play in the sixth. "We've just been able to find ways to get that one pitch and make sure we don't miss it."
John Lackey (7-6) overcame a season-high four walks in seven innings to carry the AL-leading Red Sox to their fourth straight victory. He allowed two runs and three hits while striking out five. He also hit a batter.
Lackey improved to 19-6 against the A's, even though this was far from his best performance.
"This is probably one that says more about where I'm at than anything," he said. "I probably didn't have my best stuff like I had my last few times out and still was able to do pretty good against a pretty good team."
The A's left six on base, while the Red Sox stranded five.
John Jaso hit an RBI single in the fifth and Jed Lowrie added a tying home run in the sixth for Oakland, which remained a game ahead of Texas in the AL West. Sean Doolittle (3-3) allowed one hit and hit a batter before Ryan Cook gave up Pedroia's two-out single.
Andrew Bailey , a two-time All-Star closer for the A's from 2009-2011, tossed a scoreless eighth. Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth for his eighth save this season.
Jarrod Parker regrouped after a sloppy second inning to retire his final 16 batters and put the A's in position to come back. He gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings, striking out three and walking none.
"I was moving the ball in and out and being able to get some early contact. That helped me go later into the game after a long inning like that," Parker said.
The only runs off Parker came in an inning that featured two errors and a hit batter that also took out plate umpire CB Bucknor and caused a brief delay.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson 's errant throw to first allowed Mike Napoli to advance to second. Then Parker's pitch - clocked at 92 mph - grazed Daniel Nava and hit the right side of Bucknor's mask.
Bucknor went down on one knee and winced in pain. Second base umpire and crew chief Bill Miller replaced Bucknor behind the plate and the game resumed with three umpires.
Holt's two-out single gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. He advanced to third on the play when catcher Jaso threw the ball into right-center field trying to nab him at second, but Parker never allowed another baserunner.
The A's offense finally got going when Seth Smith doubled off the wall in left leading off the fifth for the first hit against Lackey. After Coco Crisp walked, Jaso's single sliced Boston's lead to 2-1.
Crisp advanced to third when right fielder Shane Victorino bobbled Jaso's hit. But Pedroia made a spectacular diving stop at second on Donaldson's grounder to start an inning-ending double play.
"Thank God it landed in my glove, because if it didn't, it probably would have put a hole in my chest," Pedroia said of the hard-hit hopper.
Lowrie sent a 1-0 cutter from Lackey over the wall in right for the tying shot in the sixth. It was Lowrie's seventh home run this season.
Victorino was hit on the base of his right thumb by Doolittle to put runners on first and third in the seventh. After Victorino stole second uncontested, Pedroia singled to left against Cook to put Boston back in front.
"Just another very go overall win on our part," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
NOTES: The Red Sox acquired reliever Matt Thornton and cash from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor league outfielder Brandon Jacob. ... Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz (neck strain) threw about 30 pitches in a bullpen session Friday. The rehab assignment he had been scheduled to make Sunday will now just be another bullpen session. Farrell said Bucholz will throw a simulated game at some point and make just one rehab start instead of the two originally planned. ... Brandon Workman , who allowed three earned runs in two innings in his major league debut in Wednesday's 11-4 win at Seattle, will make his first start in Sunday's series finale at Oakland, Farrell said. ... INF Adam Rosales , who the A's designated for assignment Monday, cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento. ... Lefty John Lester (8-5, 4.60 ERA) starts for the Red Sox against Oakland's A.J. Griffin (7-6, 3.94 ERA) on Saturday.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP