BOSTON -- John Lackey is rolling again after two rough seasons that made his rich contract seem like a waste of money.
Now the Boston Red Sox are getting what they paid for.
Lackey allowed two hits in seven innings, gave up no earned runs for his second straight start and led the Red Sox to an 8-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on a rainy Friday night.
"I had one bad year and needed surgery afterwards," he said, "It's not like I've never been good before."
Lackey was 14-11 in his first season after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract as a free agent. Then he faltered in 2011, going 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA while battling elbow problems. He had Tommy John surgery after that season and missed all of 2012.
Now he's 3-4 with a 2.72 ERA in a season in which he's allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his seven starts. And he said his elbow feels fine.
"He's not thinking about anything that's taken place in the past, either performance-wise or injury-wise," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The benefit that he had coming into this year was that spring training started 16 months post-op for him, so he was a little bit further along in the recovery than maybe the typical Tommy John" patient.
His season is going so well that the crowd, which booed him often during the 2011 season, chanted "Lackey, Lackey" after he finished his night by striking out Mark Reynolds and Jason Giambi to end the seventh inning.
"It's been a lot of fun," Lackey said. "My arm strength is getting better. Endurance is getting better. Things are going on the right track."
Mike Carp began the scoring with a three-run homer in the second, breaking an 0-for-21 slump.
"It definitely means a lot," he said. "I've been struggling for playing time and to have a big at bat like that it builds confidence heading into the next couple days."
The homer also ended a 20-inning scoreless streak for Justin Masterson (7-3) and followed a walk to David Ortiz and a single by Mike Napoli.
"This was probably the first (start) I didn't really feel the greatest," Masterson said. "I was just kind of pushing (the ball) to the plate. I don't know if the weather had anything to do with that."
The Indians fell out of first place in the AL Central and a half-game behind the Detroit Tigers, who beat the Minnesota Twins 6-0. The Red Sox remained one game behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-4.
It was the second straight strong performance by Lackey. Last Sunday he gave up one hit and one unearned run in six innings of a 5-1 win at Minnesota. He left that game after a three-hour rain delay.
The start of Friday's game was delayed by 44 minutes.
"Both teams play in it, so it's a better night if you're winning," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Lackey struck out eight, walked three and gave up an unearned run while pitching through a steady rain. He allowed only two of the 25 batters he faced to hit the ball out of the infield.
"He had velocity," Francona said. "He ended up throwing that cutter very effectively, kind of ran it in on our lefties. As he got more successful with it, he started bringing it off the plate a little bit, opening up the rest of the plate."
He also made a nice fielding play, ranging toward first base to pick up a grounder, skidding on his knees and throwing out speedy Michael Bourn in the sixth.
"It was kind of a crazy night with the rain, kind of got everybody a little off balance probably," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said, "but Lack did a great job. I think regardless of anything he was going to go out there and do that."
Former Red Sox manager Francona received an ovation when he walked back to the dugout after making two pitching changes in the seventh, when Boston scored four runs. Francona returned to Fenway Park as an opposing manager on Thursday night for the first time since he was let go by the Red Sox after the 2011 season. The Indians won that game 12-3.
After Carp's homer, the Indians made it 3-1 in the third. Singles by Reynolds and Michael Brantley put runners at first and second before Lackey retired two batters. On a double-steal attempt, Saltalamacchia threw the ball into left field, allowing Reynolds to score and Brantley to reach third.
The Red Sox made it 4-1 in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. Daniel Nava was hit by a pitch and Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz singled. Napoli grounded to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who threw to second baseman Jason Kipnis for a forceout. Kipnis' throw to first pulled Nick Swisher off the bag as Napoli reached safely and Nava scored. Pedroia also tried to score, but Swisher threw him out.
Boston took an 8-1 lead in the seventh on two-run singles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia.
Notes: Giambi is hitless in his last 26 at bats after going 0-for-4. .. Cleveland activated Swisher off the paternity list and optioned IF Cord Phelps to Triple-A Columbus. ... The Red Sox recalled RHP Alfredo Aceves and IF Jose Iglesias from Triple-A Pawtucket and placed OF Shane Victorino and 3B Will Middlebrooks on the 15-day disabled list. They also activated C David Ross off the 7-day concussion disabled list and sent C Ryan Lavarnway to Pawtucket. ... Cleveland's Scott Kazmir (2-2) faces Jon Lester (6-1) on Saturday in the third game of the four-game series.