For Lackey, it's good to be back

For Lackey, it's good to be back
October 24, 2013, 2:15 pm
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BOSTON –  It has been almost 11 years – Oct. 27, 2002, to be precise - since John Lackey made a World Series start.  But, it was a memorable one: Game 7, while with the Angels against the Giants, Lackey went five innings, giving up one run on four hits and a walk with one strikeouts.
In that game, just four days after his 24th birthday, he was the winning pitcher in the clinching game. Lackey made three World Series appearances that season, two starts, going 1-0, with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.622 WHIP.
What does he remember of that experience?
“Not a whole lot,” Lackey said. “That I'm old, I guess. You remember parts of it, but I've been in the playoffs several times. One more step this time. And I guess the main thing is you realize how hard it is to get here. It's been 11 years since I've been here.  Been chasing it for a while, and you probably appreciate it more this time than you do as a rookie, that sort of thing.”
And he’s a different pitcher now.
“More options,” he said. “I was pretty much a two‑pitch pitcher back then. I've got more things I can go to, more ways I can go about getting people out, if one thing is not working. Probably just the options.”
Lackey turned 35 on Wednesday. He’s a long time removed from that earlier World Series. But, he remembers enough to know these games are not like others.
“It's not a normal game,” he said. “It's a playoff game. It's a big game for sure. It's going to be cold. And it's just that feeling in the air, for sure, that it's October and it's different. And you've got to embrace that, have fun with it and go get after it.”
It was never a guarantee that Lackey would get back to this stage, at least, not with the Red Sox. He endured some difficult on-field and off-field times over the last few seasons, since joining the Sox as a free agent before the 2010 season. He missed all of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in November 2011, after the disastrous end to that season, in what seemed like a certain trip to the postseason before a horrific team collapse in September
This year is his first trip back to the postseason since 2009, his last with the Angels. He never doubted, though, that fully healthy he would return to the pitcher he had been.
“Not healthy, no,” he said. “I definitely struggled, had one bad year here and then had to have surgery afterwards.  I knew I was dealing with some stuff that year, for sure, physically.  And once I had the surgery, with the rehab and that sort of stuff, I was pretty confident that it would come back.
“I'm not really concerned about some of that outside stuff. I know who I was in the clubhouse and where I stood with the guys in the clubhouse. That means more to me than about anything. You want to be on a good team. You want to try to help out the boys. You want to pull your weight, and that's been fun this year.”
In 29 starts this season, Lackey went 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA. In 16 postseason career appearances, including 14 starts, he his 5-4 with a 3.10 ERA. Lackey is looking forward to his first World Series start as a 30-something. But, he knows this start will not be about fun.
“Probably not [Thursday night], no,” he said. “It's kind of a business day [Thursday].  I'm going to enjoy it more [in Game 1], probably, watching my buddy [Jon Lester] pitch.  Rooting hard for Lester, that will be kind of fun to be a fan [in Game 1], to watch him and root him on. But [Thursday], it’s a workday. You've got to go out and get after it.
You know it's a big game. There's no running from that. And it's something you've got to embrace. It's something you've got to enjoy. And just really focus on executing pitches.  Because once you get between the lines, it's all about throwing the ball where you want to throw it the other 162 games.”