- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BALTIMORE -- When Red Sox pitcher John Lackey disagrees with a call and glares at an umpire, it's a sure sign the game is on the line and the veteran righthander is focused.
There were a few occasions on Sunday at Camden Yards when Lackey's body language made it clear to the man in black behind the plate that he was not happy. Lackey wasn't placing blame on the umpire for a bad call, he was merely reflecting displeasure with himself.
In his 12th start for the Red Sox this season, Lackey had to settle for a no-decision as the Orioles avoided a sweep and won 4-3 in 11 innings on Nick Markakis's walk-off RBI single off Sox reliever Hideki Okajima.
It goes down as a loss for Boston, but Lackey provided another quality outing.
He worked seven innings and allowed two runs (both in the second inning) on seven hits with three walks and two strikeouts. He threw a season-high 124 pitches (70 strikes) and it was his first no-decision in his last seven outings.
It was a long day for the Red Sox and it didn't end well, but everyone in Boston's clubhouse believes Lackey is getting on a roll.
"I'll tell you what and I know I've said it time and time again, but with each passing game I feel more like this," explained Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "His will to compete and once you get into the meat of the game, I think he just loves competing. You're going to get the best out of him when the game is on the line. There's been a few times now where he's been up with his pitch count, and the game is on the line, and you see his very best."
Prior to the Red Sox signing him to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million over the winter, Lackey had pitched his entire big-league career with the Angels. When he faced the Red Sox, Boston usually got to him. Despite a 3-7 record in 14 career starts against the Sox, they knew exactly how difficult a pitcher he was to face because of his bulldog mentality on the mound.
Boston is now reaping the benefits.
"He's a horse," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's out there eating up innings and giving us a chance to win and that's all we can ask for. We've seen it before playing against him and we're glad he's over here now. He gives it everything he has every start and it's pretty awesome what he does."
Lackey has been dominant against the Orioles in his career. He has allowed three runs or less and pitched at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts against the Orioles. It's the longest such streak against Baltimore by an opponent since a nine-game streak by Gaylord Perry from 1974 to 1980.
Lackey says he's not concerned with records, streaks or pitch counts, he just wants to give his team the best possible chance to win on the days he pitches. Pretty simple game plan, yes, but the execution can be the hard part.
So far with Boston, he's been consistent.
"You want to stay out there as long as you can," said Lackey. "I don't put a lot of stock in pitch counts. I felt like I was still strong [Sunday] and was able to get through the seventh, so it was nice."
In 12 starts for the Red Sox this season, he's worked past the sixth inning 10 times.
"That's one of the reasons I'm here," he said. "It's something I've taken pride in my whole career. I'm a guy who pretty regularly gets deep into games and you keep your bullpen in line and it helps a lot of things."
When told what his manager said about his outing, Lackey was clear in his response.
"That's just me. I'm going to get after it and I'm definitely going to compete every time I go out there," said Lackey. "I cant' really guarantee a lot of things, but I'll definitely guarantee I'm going to get after it. I kept us in the game today and it was a tight game."
The only problem for the Red Sox was their lack of run support for their starting pitcher. Boston managed only eight hits and received its run by way of a two-run homer by Victor Martinez in the second inning and a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia in the ninth.
Despite the no-decision, Lackey's not worried about the team's success.
"We're fine," he said. "It's not a big deal. You're always disappointed to lose a game, but we've been playing good baseball and we played good baseball today. We just came out a little bit short."
Lackey did not.
Joe McDonald covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
John Lackey has been a workhorse for the Red Sox, as advertised.