Better late than never, John Lackey is giving the Red Sox what they paid for.

With Clay Buchholz nursing nagging soreness on the right side of his neck, and with Jon Lester getting rocked to the tune of a 7.30 ERA since the middle of May, Lackey has been ace-like for the Red Sox. And today, he delivered one of his best starts in the last four years, matching his career-high with 12 strikeouts without walking a batter over seven innings in a 5-2 win over the Rockies.

Lackey struck out the side in three of the first four innings, and during one stretch, retired 13 of 16 batters. He lowered his ERA to 2.99, which would rank 11th in the American League if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. And after striking out Carlos Gonzalez to end the seventh inning, he received a thunderous (before the actual thunder began) ovation at Fenway Park as he walked to the dugout.

Indeed, this was what the Red Sox had in mind when they signed Lackey for $82.5 million before the 2010 season.

Lackey was backed by another impressive offensive outburst. After pounding a season-high 20 hits Tuesday night, the Red Sox smacked around Rockies starter Roy Oswalt for five runs in the first three innings. Once again, it was the top half of the order that did the most damage, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava combining to go 9-for-21 with five RBI.

After the Rockies scored a first-inning run, the Red Sox built a 3-1 lead on a leadoff double by Ellsbury, an RBI single by Victorino, a Wall double by Ortiz and a two-out RBI single by Nava.

The lead was extended to 5-1 in the third inning on back-to-back singles by Victorino and Pedroia, a walk to Ortiz that loaded the bases, an RBI single by Napoli and a sacrifice fly by Nava.