Not only was it a historic turnaround for the entire Red Sox team, going from worst to first and ultimately finishing with a World Series title, but it was also a dramatic turnaround for Red Sox starter John Lackey.
The right-hander came into the 2013 season after missing the entire 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery, and in 2011 he was one of the most ridiculed players on the team after earning $34 million in his first two years as a Red Sox and finishing with a combined 26-23 record with a 5.41 ERA in 2010 and 2011. [embedgallery id=245304]
Coming back from Tommy John, despite his 10-13 regular season record, 2013 was one of the best years of his career as he posted a 3.52 ERA (third-lowest of his career) and won the fans of Boston back. It was only fitting he was on the mound Wednesday night when the Red Sox won their third World Series title in the last 10 years.
“His turnaround mirrors the organization,” manager John Farrell said. “He did an incredible job of preparing himself for the start of this season last off-season by doing the work that he did and he carried it through. Whether it’s the baseball God or whatever, it worked out where he is on the mound in this final game. It is fitting.”
Lackey tossed 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on nine hits and struck out five, while getting out of jams in the second, fourth and fifth innings. With picking up the win he became the first pitcher in major league history to start and win the clinching game of a World Series for two different teams as he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series with the Angels.
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The 35-year-old went 3-1 in four starts and one relief appearance this postseason, with his only loss coming in Game 2 to the Cardinals. He really stepped his game up when it mattered most, finishing with a 2.77 ERA over 26 innings in the playoffs. Wednesday was his third appearance of the series after starting Game 2 and coming in relief in Game 4, so he knew the Cardinals hitters would have some idea of what to expect.
“You have to make adjustments, I mean this is the third time that I’ve pitched in this series,” he said “We had a plan and mixed up a few things.”
Lackey did everything he could to try and make it through the full seven innings, but after retiring the first two hitters he allowed three straight hits and the first Cardinals run of the game. With runners on first and third and two outs Farrell came out of the dugout to get Lackey, but the veteran right-hander talked himself out of his manager’s decision, something he could never do during the season.
Following a walk to Matt Holliday, there was nothing he could say or do this time as he was removed from the game in favor of Junichi Tazawa with the bases loaded. Tazawa got a harmless ground out from Allen Craig to end the threat and all but clinch the win for the Red Sox.
The crowd gave Lackey a rousing ovation when he exited and for the first time, possibly, as a member of the Red Sox, he acknowledged the crowd with a tip of his cap.
"It was my appreciation back to them, thanks for understanding what I've gone through, I guess," he said.
In a year that seemed like an impossible dream, it ended with something that could not have been scripted any better, with Lackey earning the win in the clinching game of the World Series.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84.