BOSTON -- John Lackey was hunched over the podium in the Fenway Park interview room, hair still wet from a postgame shower, his tired and heavy eyes summing up another disappointing start in what has become the worst season of his 10-year career.
Words fumbled out, though Lackey appeared just as confused as those answering the questions, contemplating the reasons why he couldn't find his way against Texas on Sunday, marking his eighth time in 24 starts this season where he's allowed at least five earned runs.
Lackey allowed six earned runs over five-plus innings of work, pushing his season ERA back over 6.00, while starter Matt Harrison led the Rangers to an 11-4 victory in the series finale.
"They just got a couple singles on me, and then things kind of went south pretty quick," Lackey said.
It's been an ongoing theme for the Red Sox this season -- sending Lackey to the mound every fifth day, hoping that he can rediscover the ability that made him a 19-game winner while with the Angels.
He's shown glimpses, though even during a six-game winning streak between July and August, his ERA barely hovered under 4.00, and by the time the streak was over, his ERA for the season remained above 6.00.
After Sunday's loss, Lackey has made 57 starts in a Red Sox uniform, accumulating a 5.08 ERA. And while his career record with Boston remains positive (26-22), that's largely due to the run support he's received, which, entering Sunday, was 6.73 runs per start in 2011.
"It was a tough day," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "There's nothing else you can say about it. It was a tough day, and everyone is going to have them."
The loss reduced the Red Sox's record against the Rangers to 4-6 this year, and if the season ended today, the two teams would be lined up to face one another in the first round of postseason play.
That certainly wouldn't bode well for Lackey, whose career ERA vs. Texas jumped to 6.16 over 36 starts, the second highest ERA ever among pitchers with at least 140 innings against the Rangers.
"There's a lot of history there," said manager Terry Francona. "And there are a lot of guys who have some pretty good numbers [against Lackey]. That doesn't mean that he can't beat 'em, but they work you pretty good. They're a good team."
"I don't have a whole lot of tricks left," Lackey said.
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said the team's approach against Lackey was no different than against any other pitcher.
"We are always relentless against him," Hamilton said. "There's no secret game plan. Make them throw it over the plate. If they don't throw strikes, take the walk and let the other guy do it. Make the pitcher throw strikes and hit the ball."
Lackey worked a hitless first inning on Sunday, though each out was a well-struck line drive, and he wasn't as fortunate in the second, when David Murphy tripled off the center-field wall before Mike Napoli drove him in with an RBI single.
The Rangers tacked on another one the same way in the third, when Ian Kinsler roped a fly ball to right field to knock in Endy Chavez. Conor Jackson, making his first start in right for the Red Sox, sprinted toward the warning track with his head turned backward and crashed into the wall, knocking the ball down to save a home run, though Kinsler pulled into third with a triple.
Jackson remained in the game to finish the inning. He said his body hurt everywhere, and though he tried riding the bike between innings, he never could get loose and was removed from the game with a bruised right knee.
"It carried a lot more than I thought it was going to go," he said. "Usually, if you know a ball is going to go far, after about five or six steps, you're looking to see where you are, where the ball is hit and the wind takes it a little bit. You don't have that luxury [at Fenway], I guess. My first day out in right field, I'm not going to hold up on a fly ball. Pretty close to catching it, and I feel like I ran into a truck."
Lackey labored through the next two innings before the Rangers again got to him in the sixth. He allowed three straight singles to lead off the inning, pushed in Michael Young from third with a wild pitch, and walked Napoli before Francona had seen enough.
Left-hander Felix Doubront, who was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket when rosters expanded on Wednesday, replaced Lackey and allowed all of Lackey's baserunners to score before giving up three runs of his own. Doubront got just one out before being replaced by Matt Albers, who was a lone bright spot in the game, with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball and four strikeouts.
"I left three runners out there with nobody out," Lackey said. "Felix came in there in a tough spot, especially for a young kid. And to get booed after that, for a young kid -- he's going to do a lot of good things here; I felt bad for him."
The Red Sox couldn't crack Harrison until the seventh. Carl Crawford knocked an infield single and Saltalamacchia smacked a ground-rule double to left field, while both scored on a single from Marco Scutaro.
Boston tacked on two more in the eighth, when Adrian Gonzalez earned a leadoff walk and Kevin Youkilis roped his second hit of the day for a double to left field. David Ortiz drove in Gonzalez with a ground-ball single to right field and Darnell McDonald, who replaced the injured Jackson in right field, knocked a sacrifice fly to right to score Youkilis.
But Napoli and Kinsler hit towering home runs in the ninth off Michael Bowden, sealing Boston's fate and pushing the Sox to 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Yankees in the American League East.
Lackey, meanwhile, has a month left to prove himself before the postseason rosters are set. Asked what he expects out of himself the rest of the way, Lackey said, "To win. That's what they always are. [Things don't] change with the time of year. I'm going to go out there and compete my [tail] off and see what happens."
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.