OAKLAND -- You wouldn't know it from a glance at the box score or even necessarily by watching the game, but the Red Sox's 4-2 win over the A's on Friday night was a challenge for starter John Lackey.
"Honestly, tonight was kind of a grind," Lackey said. "I didn't really feel as good as I have the last four or five times, but I was able to kind of grind through it. Guys made a couple nice plays for me, especially [second baseman Dustin] Pedroia on the double play ball. It was a huge play for me, and then they picked me up with a couple runs there in the end. It was a good team effort."
That about sums things up. Lackey allowed just two runs over seven innings of work at O.co Coliseum, yielding just three hits and striking out five on the way to his seventh win and 12th quality start of the season.
The right-hander has now allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of his 16 starts this season and posted a 2.32 ERA in 11 outings since May 19, yet his uncharacteristic four walks in the series opener are indicative that he wasn't as sharp as past outings, even if some the credit should go to Oakland, the most-walked team in baseball.
"This is one that probably says more about where I'm at than anything," Lackey said of the win. "I probably didn't have my best stuff that I've had the last few times out and I was still able to do pretty good against a pretty good team."
Boston (58-37) maintained its hold of the best record in the American League with its win over the AL West-leading A's (54-39). The Red Sox are 5-3 thus far on their current 10-game excursion down the West Coast to set a Red Sox pre-All-Star break record with 58 wins.
The team's success of late can be attributed to clutch two-out hitting, which accounted for all four of Boston's runs Friday and 11 of the team's last 13.
Brock Holt extended his hitting streak to six games with a two-run knock in a second inning that featured two A's errors and home-plate umpire CB Bucknor exiting the game early after he was struck in the facemask by a mid-90s fastball from Jarrod Parker.
Parker responded by retiring the next 16 batters he faced, but Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook couldn't preserve the tie by allowing two runs in the seventh off a single to left field, once again with two outs, from Pedroia.
"There's no secret," Pedroia said. "We're just turning out quality at-bats. Brock's at-bat was huge. We've just been able to find ways to find that one pitch and make sure we don't miss it."
Pedroia also came up big on the defensive end in the fifth inning with one out and runners at the corners. Boston's second baseman picked Josh Donaldson's sizzling liner to start a double play and end the inning with Boston up just one run at the time.
"That defensive play was kind of self-defense," Pedroia said. "Thank God it went in my glove, because if it didn't, it would've probably put a hole in my chest."
"That's one of those momentum shifts we're talking about," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We had a lot of momentum there. J.D.'s up and hits a bullet. As soon as he hits it you're thinking there's no way he's going to make that play, and all of a sudden it ends up into two. That was probably the biggest play of the game."
The A's scored an additional run off a solo home run from former Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie an inning later, but Lackey settled down to retire the last six batters he faced, an encouraging sign for a player who has said he pitches better in the second half of the season.
"It's still a work in progress, but I feel pretty good with where I'm at," Lackey said. "Usually my touch and feel and that sort of stuff, offspeed pitches, it's usually better in the second half, that's usually what happens for me."
Former A's closer Andrew Bailey pitched a scoreless eighth for the Red Sox, striking out Chevrolet Home Run Derby participant Yoenis Cespedes with a man on first to end the inning, and Koji Uehara earned his eighth save of the season by striking out the side in the ninth.
The four-run showing was a drop in production for the Red Sox, who had scored 34 runs in their last four games, but that's to be expected against an A's rotation that has now allowed three runs or fewer in their last nine games. Jacoby Ellsbury's 19-game hitting streak came to a close. He had batted .413 with seven doubles, two home runs, 11 RBIs and 16 runs during the stretch.
Boston is now one win away from claiming its 20th series victory of the season before the All-Star break, which would match the Sox's total number of series victories last season. Friday's win snapped a six-game losing streak at the Coliseum, where the A's had won 18 of their last 22 games and own the best home record in the American League.
"In any series you're always hopeful that you can come out on top to give you a chance by winning game one," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We know this is going to be a challenge for us. They're a very good team. Just reflecting on the April series against them, this is going to be a hard-fought three-game series. It's good to get the first win in."
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.