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Written off, 2 Red Sox prove doubters wrong

Richard Cooke

Publication: theday.com

Published November 06. 2013 4:00PM   Updated November 06. 2013 4:58PM

The Commissioner’s Trophy is back in Boston. The Duck Boats have toured the city filled with players and coaches celebrating a season of victory. The Red Sox are World Series champions.

Now it’s time for us to reflect on the season that is behind us. So many things have to go right for a team to win it all. Sure, some luck plays a factor in determining a winner, but more often than not, the cream rises to the top. I think it’s safe to say, Red Sox fan or not, that baseball’s best team arose victorious.

While baseball is a team game, a team is made up of individuals who play a very important role in their own way. Players like David Ortiz, who may have had the best postseason as a hitter in baseball history, and Jon Lester, who was lights out in contributing to two World Series victories, are guys we can pinpoint as key factors. But let’s not forget about two guys who also played important roles; guys who, at one point not too long ago, were completely written off for their careers: John Lackey and Shane Victorino.

Boston fans remember Lackey pre-2013 all too well. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract at the end of 2009, essentially beginning the Theo Epstein mindset of overpaying for superstar names. From the start, he was never welcomed in Boston. He didn’t help his own cause either.

His numbers in LA we’re worthy of putting him in the top 3 of a rotation. Always posting double digit wins, rarely with double digit losses. ERA in the mid-3s, WHIP in the 1.2s. Never the ace of a club, but a guy you could rely on to give you quality starts throughout the year. Once he landed in Logan airport, something changed.

His rocky start in 2010 finished with a 4.40 ERA, his worst since 2004. Boston fans started to question why the team had given so much money to a guy who wasn’t worth it. With that memory fresh in their minds, the Red Sox signed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to contracts worth a combined $296 million.

The following year was a disaster, one that both Lackey and the Red Sox want removed from their memory. He posted a 6.41 ERA with career highs in almost every category you want low, and career lows in every category you want high. He was awful. As the anger and frustration built toward him in Boston, the team collapsed in epic fashion at the end of the year, missing the playoffs. Lackey, again, was in the negative spotlight. His role in “Chicken and Beer-Gate” made him the poster child for everything wrong about that Boston team. The big contracts, the poor performances, the epic collapse. All of it was because of Lackey.

Taking a year off in 2012 was the best thing that could have happened to him. As he recovered from Tommy John surgery, he witnessed the worst Red Sox season in a half century. Had he been a part of it, there is a very good chance he would be in the Witness Protection Program right now.

Shane Victorino was in a similar situation as Lackey heading into the season. He spent eight seasons with the Phillies before they shipped him off mid-season in 2012 to the Dodgers, fearing he was on the decline. He hit just .255/.313/.383 that year, by far the worst of his career. The Phillies thought they made a smart move by getting rid of him just at the right time.

Boston GM Ben Cherington, fairly new to the job, signed a number of players during the offseason, but no move was more scrutinized than that to bring in Victorino. He was signed to a three-year, $39 million contract. Giving that kind of money to a 31-year-old coming off his worst season as a pro, it was deemed the worst move of the entire offseason in baseball. While the money wasn’t quite as high, visions of Lackey, Crawford, and Gonzalez danced in the minds of Red Sox fans.

Both Victorino and Lackey had something to prove heading into 2013. Lackey, while it seemed impossible at that point, had to try and win back a fan base that couldn’t stand the sight of him. Victorino was given up by a team he spent nearly his entire career with because they feared he could not contribute to them anymore. Fans thought he was washed up. Neither player had much to lose. 

Lackey turned his game around. Coming off a year recovering from surgery, he quietly posted a 3.52 ERA and 1.157 WHIP, lowest of his career. While he didn’t necessarily get the run support to post a great record, Red Sox fans noticed this was not your John Lackey of years past. He was never the greatest pitcher on the staff, but he was certainly the most consistent.

Victorino came to Boston with a lot of question marks around his name. He answered those by hitting .294/.351/.451 in 122 games, the best of his career. He was a staple defensively in the outfield, winning his third Gold Glove. His entrance song of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley routinely sent Fenway Park into vocal harmony as they sang along. Maybe he should change it to “Redemption Song”.

Both of their regular season performances were enough to prove they still had game left in their tanks. Lackey’s reputation among Boston fans had been somewhat restored. Victorino could hold his chin up high to Philadelphia’s front office, showing them they made a mistake. But they weren’t done. On the greatest stage of their careers, they shined the brightest.

Victorino, always a flare for the dramatics, was the catalyst offensively in Boston’s clinching games in the ALCS and World Series. Down 2-1 in the 7th, a Game 7 against Justin Verlander looming, the Flyin’ Hawaiian crushed a Grand Slam over the Green Monster, propelling the Red Sox to a victory and a berth in the World Series. With Boston a win away from clinching the championship at home, Victorino solidified his place in Red Sox postseason history even further, putting a three run double off the top of the Monster to give Boston a 3-0 lead. They wouldn’t look back.

As a starter in the postseason Lackey went 3-1, all of his outings strong. When nobody gave him a chance, he outdueled maybe the greatest pitcher in the game, Justin Verlander, in the ALCS. He gave Boston a great chance to win Game 2 before the lead was surrendered by the bullpen. In the same game Victorino gave Boston the lead with a chance to win the World Series, Lackey shut down the Cardinals bats, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings. He walked off the mound to chants of “Lackey” from the Boston crowd. It was something neither he, nor they, would have ever imagined. Maybe they weren’t as much chants of support, as opposed to fans admitting they had gotten him wrong.

Will Lackey and Victorino continue their success into 2014? Maybe. Maybe not. The Red Sox organization can only hope they do. But for now, let’s not worry about what will happen in the future, and for these two, what they’ve done in the past. Let’s appreciate what they’ve accomplished this year after they had been written off as done, washed up, wastes of money. They’ve played significant roles as individuals in helping a team achieve the ultimate goal.

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