Lackey completes transformation with Game 6 gem

Lackey completes transformation with Game 6 gem
October 31, 2013, 3:30 am
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GAME 6: RED SOX 6, CARDS 1

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BOSTON -- If the Red Sox were going to do this, finish it off on their own lawn for the first time in a century and consummate their worst-to-first journey with a World Series championship, it was fitting that John Lackey be the winning pitcher.
      
No player better embodied the turnaround the team experienced than Lackey himself.
      
Two years ago, he compiled the worst ERA of any starter in Red Sox history, then topped it off by being linked to the team's chicken-and-beer scandal.
      
He missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and truth be told, most fans weren't exactly on pins and needles, waiting expectantly for his return.
      
When he arrived in spring training, he had dropped so much weight that he was almost unrecognizable.
      
But the real transformation began when he started to pitch. His fastball at times returned to the mid-90s, his command sharper than it had been since he came to Boston in 2010.
      
Back on the mound and healthy, Lackey seemed happier, too, less churlish with the media, and far less defensive.
      
Run support was hard to come by and his 10-13 record was more than a little misleading.
      
Making the transformation complete was his presence on the mound in Game 6, a night when the Sox stashed all the baggage from the last few seasons and claimed baseball supremacy again.
      
"His turnaround mirrors that of this organization," said John Farrell after Lackey limited the St. Louis Cardinals to a single run over 6 2/3 innings as the Sox clinched the title in Game 6. "The way he reshaped his body goes right into how well he pitched. He became more athletic, more accustomed to repeating his delivery. And I think it's almost fitting that he's on the mound to finish it out tonight."
      
In the early going in Game 6, the Cardinals squared up Lackey more than a few times, rocketing balls that were either fielded or caught. He had to wiggle out of a first-and-second, one-out jam in the second, and another first-and-second, no-out mess in the fourth after a rare error by Dustin Pedroia.
      
After that, he settled into a rhythm, retiring 10-of-12 before running out of gas in the seventh.
      
With two out, a run in and runners at second and third, Farrell went out to the mound, ostensibly to take the ball from Lackey. Once there, he met with widespread resistance.
      
Farrell expected a fight from Lackey. He also got one from his batterymate.
      
"He and David Ross double-teamed me," joked Farrell afterward, both pleading to allow the veteran pitcher to go after Matt Holliday.
      
On the telecast, Lackey could be seen telling Farrell: "This is my guy."
      
As it turns out he wasn't. Holliday worked a walk and when Farrell came out a second time, a change was pre-ordained.
      
Still, Lackey left to a massive ovation, exactly the kind of reception that couldn't have been imagined in the not-too-distant pass.
      
"It gave me goosebumps," said Farrell.
      
It resonated with his teammates, too, who watched with a special appreciation of what Lackey had gone through.
      
"I think we all kind of sit back and want the ball ourselves in those situations," said Jon Lester, who had been the winning pitcher in two of the first three Red Sox World Series victories. "But when you take yourself out of the equation there's nobody I'd want on the mound in a situation like that. He competed his butt off. That's John  Lackey. That's what we love about him in that clubhouse. and I'm just glad everybody got to see that this year."
      
Even Lackey, who seemed to harbor some resentment over his treatment two years ago, was moved to tip his cap in appreciation as he made his way to the dugout.
      
"It was my appreciation back to them," said Lackey of the fans, "thanks for  understanding what I've gone through, I guess."
      
He had been on this stage before, of course, back in 2002, when as a rookie he started and won Game 7 of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
      
Asked to compare the title-clinching starts, 11 years apart, Lackey said: "You know what you're playing for when you go into a game like this. I think it almost is better to be young and dumb sometimes."
      
Now older and wiser, Lackey won again when it counted. This time, instead of the franchise's face of failure, he stood as a symbol of a team's redemption.