Pedroia pounds A’s in AL heavy­weight bout

OAKLAND COLISEUM — In a battle between two first-place teams, a late knock from a perennial Boston All-Star lifted the Red Sox to a 4-2 win over the A’s Friday night.

Dustin Pedroia’s two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning proved to be the difference in Boston’s series-opening win, giving the Red Sox a Major League-best 58 wins.

Despite walking a season-high four batters, John Lackey pitched seven innings, giving up only three hits and two runs, striking out five for the win improving to 19-6 all-time against Oakland.

In that span of 34 games vs. the A’s, he’s given up 74 runs and struck out 161.

Boston took advantage of early Athletics’ mistakes. Mike Napoli singled to lead off the top of the second inning and advanced to second on a throwing error by Josh Donaldson.

Jarrod Parker then hit Daniel Nava with a pitch that bounced off his helmet and into home plate umpire CB Bucknor’s facemask. Bucknor left the game, and crew chief Bill Miller took his place behind the dish.

Parker got Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jose Iglesias to fly out, but surrendered a two-out single to Brock Holt that scored both runs. Holt eventually ended up at third base after a throwing error by John Jaso but didn’t score.

The A’s had plenty of chances through the first four innings, but couldn’t quite figure out the Lackey puzzle.

Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick both walked in the second, but neither scored. With two outs in the fourth, Cespedes was hit by a pitch, and Brandon Moss walked, but again, the offense failed to bring them home.

Lackey held the Athletics hitless through four innings before giving up a lead-off double to Seth Smith in the fifth. Smith eventually came around to score on an RBI single by Jaso, and the Red Sox lead was slashed in half.

The A’s had a chance for more, as Lowrie smoked a ball up the middle, but Pedroia speared it and turned a fantastic double play, ending the threat.

Manager Bob Melvin says the double play killed a potential rally:

A’s manager Bob Melvin

Video: CSN California

“That’s one of those momentum shifts. We had a lot of momentum there, JD’s up, he hits a bullet, and as soon as he hits it you’re thinking there’s no way he’s gonna make that play, and all of a sudden it ends up into two, so that was probably the biggest play of the game.”

Oakland would strike again, and quickly. Jed Lowrie hit his seventh home run of the season over the fence in right field to lead off the bottom of the sixth and tie the game at 2-2.

Despite a rocky beginning, Parker settled in nicely and kept his team in the ball game. Parker went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits and striking out three.

Parker retired 16 in a row after the RBI single to Holt in the second. Unfortunately, his outing ended in a no-decision.

Sean Doolittle replaced Parker to begin the eighth, and the wheels quickly fell off for the usually sure-handed A’s bullpen.

Doolittle allowed a lead-off single to Iglesias and Holt bunted him to second. After getting Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out and hitting Shane Victorino with a pitch, Ryan Cook was brought in to relieve Doolittle.

With Cook on the mound, Victorino stole second, and both runners came around to score on an RBI single by Pedroia, giving the Red Sox their 4-2 lead.

Former A’s closer Andrew Bailey pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and Koji Uehara struck out the side in the ninth to earn his eighth save of the year.

Doolittle knows that the series between the two teams – the teams with the best records in the American League – is going to be hard-fought all the way through:

A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle

Video: CSN California

“Both teams’ starting pitching lately has been really good. Both teams get a lot of timely hits, and their pitching is what keeps them in ball games. We expected it to be a dog-fight like it was tonight. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the job done.”

The A’s look to get back in the win column Saturday night with A.J Griffin (7-6, 3.94) taking on John Lester (8-5, 4.60) at 7:05 pm.

Notes

The A’s have lost two straight games for the first time since June 22 and 23 (at Seattle)…have scored six total runs over their past four games (2-2). … Parker remains unbeaten in his last nine starts (4-0)…has posted a 2.28 ERA (15 er in 59.1 ip) over stretch. …Cespedes is 6-for-36 (.167) in July. …Jaso is batting .317 (20-for-63) since June 1. …Lowrie is hitting .347 (25 for 72) over his last 19 games.