John Lackey Lacks for Nothing Now

John Lackey

Let’s play a game of who am I. In total, they make for a fascinating picture of Sox pitcher John Lackey. In his very first start of the 2009 season, the lead-off hitter was the Ranger’s Ian Kinsler; he had hit two homers against the Angels the night before. Lackey’s first pitch was over Kinsler’s head, the next one hit him in the side. Lackey never made a third, tossed out of the game after two pitches.

In 2008, Lackey led all American League starters in ERA and finished third in the Cy Young award voting. Lackey is one of only 6 major league pitchers who won at least 11 games in each year from 2004 to 2009 and more than a few in big, big post-season games.

In 2011, now with the Red Sox, Lackey went 2–5 with an 8.01 ERA in his first seven starts for the Sox, and in May, he was placed on the disabled list with an elbow strain. He did return though. In 28 starts, Lackey finished the year 12–12 with a 6.41 ERA—his worst season ever. The 114 earned runs he allowed were the most in the American League, and his ERA was the highest in Red Sox history for a starter with at least 150 innings pitched. His doctor later said that the bone spur he removed from Lackey’s elbow was, “the biggest I’ve ever seen.”

Lackey became one of the most despised Red Sox players in recent years due to his poor performance and his public links to the hugely publicized chicken and beer antics in the 2011 clubhouse. He was surly and dismissive to the media. Lackey never acknowledged the rabid Fenway faithful fans or doffed his cap. And his looming divorce became public in September of 2011, even as his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Lackey missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but yet travelled with the team and was in the dugout while undergoing rehab.

When a Sox rookie came up to the big club, it was Lackey who greeted him and took him to dinner and welcomed him. Of all Sox players, there was nobody who tipped the clubhouse boys and attendants better than Lackey. His teammates loved him.

Prior to the 2013 season, Lackey said he had no regrets about coming to Boston and vowed to change the narrative. He told the Boston Globe, “I thought this place would be good for me,’’ he said. “I’m a guy who likes competing and showing some emotion and that is what they want. When I’m pitching well, I think it’ll be a good thing. And I’m going to pitch well. This thing isn’t over.”

No John—it wasn’t over. Over the course of the 2013 Championship season, Lackey was brilliant. Only poor run support denied him a 15-18 win season.

The postseason? He won three games. Lackey outdueled David Price, Justin Verlander and Michael Wacha. Not a bad hat-trick. He won the series-clinching game 6 in Fenway, pitching superbly. Lackey even tipped his cap to the fans on departing.

I was thinking of all this watching him beat the Orioles last week. For the first three innings he threw nothing but fastballs, nothing Clemens-like, just 90-93 MPH but perfectly spotted. Wow, I thought, he is tough-minded. He’s tough as bark. And I sure am glad that John Lackey pitches for us.