Say the name “John Lackey” to Red Sox fans two years ago and you would have gotten something along the lines of an eye roll, a head shake, or a disapproving grunt. Say the name “John Lackey” to a Red Sox fan this morning, and you will get something completely different.
Not even a power outage at Comerica Park in the 2nd inning could slow down two pitchers determined to give their best performance when their team needed them most. Heading into Tuesday night, if you had told me Lackey would outduel Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner, in Detroit, against one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball, I would have told the bartender to cut you off. I will be the first to admit I gave the Sox a slim-to-none chance of winning this game, which is why I thought it was crucial they take at least one game, possibly two in Boston. I thoroughly enjoyed being wrong there.
Ever since he arrived to Boston, Lackey has been somewhat of a sore subject. His 5-year, $82.5 million contract given to him by Theo Eptein in December 2009 seemed like a good idea for a solid 15 seconds. That’s when issues started to arise in Boston, and it was ever so easy to crown Lackey as the scapegoat. Signing him was the turning point when the Red Sox went from developing solid farm players to throwing money at big-name free agents, boosting interest and TV ratings (see: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford). His numbers didn’t gave him any help, posting a .500 winning percentage, 4.67 ERA in three full seasons. When the Red Sox were at their worst, so was Lackey. After a 6.41 ERA campaign in 2011, the worst by any starting pitcher in team history, the Red Sox went on an epic collapse to finish the season fueled by chicken and beer. Yes, we all remember that, and Lackey was in front of it all. To top it off, he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2012 campaign, which came as a relief to fans, but not to the salary cap.
All of that was forgotten with one outing on Tuesday afternoon, where Lackey took on one of the most dominant pitchers in the game head on. He threw 6 2/3 of shutout ball, allowing just four hits and striking out eight before being pulled against his will. Boston’s bullpen came in and did what they’ve done all post-season, Mike Napoli took advantage of a rare Verlander mistake, and the Red Sox now have a 2-1 series lead over Detroit.
While some may say the outing as a fluke, others may not be so pessimistic. With the taste of 2011 still fresh on people’s minds, combined with the dominance of the Red Sox lineup this season, Lackey’s success in 2013 went generally unnoticed. After a full year off, he rebounded with a 3.52 ERA season, his lowest since 2007. His 1.15 WHIP lowest in his career. He’s now 2-0 in the post-season with a 3.00 ERA, coming off maybe one of the best pitching performances in his career.
Believe me, I was all aboard the John Lackey Hater Train in 2010 and 2011. I think I speak for most Red Sox fans when I say we would have been much better not signing him in the first place. But he’s our guy now, and with all the negative behind, the pressure finally subsiding, we’re finally starting to see glimpses of his Angels days that awarded him that huge contract. The past will always be the past, but it’s behind us for a reason. Winning helps us forgive and forget, and that’s what John Lackey intends to do.