Lackey continues to carry Sox on his back

Lackey continues to carry Sox on his back
August 17, 2013, 10:45 pm

BOSTON — If the name "John Lackey" still leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it's time to stop living in the past.

The fact is this: If the Red Sox are going to succeed late in the season, Lackey is going to be a big reason why. If they don't succeed late in the season, Lackey is also going to be a big reason why.

He's been the team's most consistent starting pitcher all season - easily.

Lackey improved to 8-10 on the season in Saturday's 6-1 win over the Yankees, and according to manager John Farrell, "set the tone for us from the mound today, which we needed."

His 3.22 ERA leads all current Red Sox starters this year to go along with a 1.22 WHIP (124 K/32 BB). Lackey also pitched his 15th quality start this season, which leads the team. 13 of his last 17 outings have been quality starts, posting a 3.03 ERA (38 ER/113.0 IP) in that span.

The problem for the Sox is that many of his quality starts have gone to waste. The offense - for different reasons on different nights - hasn't done its part.

"I think in that case the record doesn't indicate how well he's pitched and how consistent he's been for us," manager John Farrell said. "I know this is the first win in over a month for him, but there's been a couple of occasions where he's pitched on the wrong day, and gone up against another starter that's held us in check. But to his credit, he's earning everything that he's getting right now with the commitment he made in the offseason, and how well he's pitched."

Lackey tied a career-high earlier this year when he struck out 12 Rockies back on June 26. He also struck out 10 Astros on August 5. But on Saturday? Just one. Instead, Lackey got 15 outs via the ground ball. That's right, the Bronx Bombers were grounded. Lackey himself fielded five of them, the most by an American League pitcher this season, and the most by a Red Sox pitcher since Steve Avery recorded 6 assists on June 14, 1998 against the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"The one impressive thing about John is on days when he might not have his best power in terms of velocity, he still has the ability to throw the ball downhill and put the ball on the ground as he did today," Farrell said. "And with [Bruce] Buttersworth, with positioning we're able to take some of those hard hits away and close up some lanes. We know that John's going to pitch to contact, and we're probably going to get pitches in intended areas with overall command and that's part of the positioning that goes into consistent defense behind it."

And whether or not Lackey wants to acknowledge it, the fans are starting to turn . . . in his favor. The Fenway crowd stood up and gave Lackey a loud ovation Saturday when he left the game in the 7th - perhaps one of the loudest he's gotten in a Sox uniform. Lackey didn't tip his cap to the crowd, something that most pitchers will do even in the slightest form, but instead was zoned in on his teammates.

"It's nice for sure," Lackey said when asked about the ovation. "It was a nice ovation for sure, especially the guys in the dugout who were standing up waiting on me."

A slight at the fans? Probably not. Lackey has earned the respect of his teammates - and vice versa - over the seasons, and it's apparent that the bond is strong among them. They all know how important he is to the ultimate goal.

"John is a gamer," Shane Victorino said. "He's been around this league. He hasn't pitched this long in the league for no reason."

There was a thought that when Lackey elected to get Tommy John surgery prior to last season, his career with the Red Sox was over. They'd trade him to another team, pay the salary in full, and be done with him. But that didn't happen. And for the sake of the Sox, it's a good thing.

"John is the kind of guy, he's battled through some serious injuries, and to bounce back the way he does, that's important," Victorino said. "He's been there before. He's been part of winning teams. To have a guy like that part of your staff, you want that. He knows what it takes to be a winner, and you just have to keep going. So take him and let him lead the way."