MacArthur: Redeemed Lackey pitches for world championship

Scott MacArthur
10/30/2013 2:07:28 PM
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BOSTON - John Lackey's got a big game to pitch.

He's not much for building a rapport with the massive media throng covering the World Series. He's not going to indulge the narrative. He's not interested in reflecting on times passed, both good and bad.

Lackey, 35, started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. That was four days after his 24th birthday. He's seen this act before, not that he's drawing anything from the memory.

"That was a long time ago, man," said Lackey. "I don't think that's going to play much into (tonight.) I think most of those guys in that game aren't even playing anymore."

Surely he can empathize with his mound opponent, 22-year-old Michael Wacha, who's in a similar position to Lackey circa 2002 and who, like Lackey, seems to pitch as if he has ice water in his veins.

"I can't speak to that, I don't know what kind of guy he is," said Lackey. "But personally, I was more excited about it than anything else as far as nerves, that sort of thing."

It's something remarkable that Lackey is starting this game. A guy who made his name in Southern California with the Angels, came to Boston and pitched poorly, missed time with serious injury and developed a negative reputation.

Two seasons ago, Lackey's second in Boston, he was dreadful. His 6.41 ERA was baseball's worst amongst pitchers with enough innings to qualify. Lackey gave up a major league-high 114 earned runs. He hit an inordinately high 19 batters.

His control was off. Lackey was pitching with pain in his elbow and when he wasn't, he was devouring beer and chicken with his mound buddies as Boston crumbled to a historic September collapse.

Lackey missed all of 2012, having undergone Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

In his first start of 2013, in Toronto on April 6, in the fifth inning and on his 77th pitch, his right bicep seized. To this observer, at least, the worst-case scenario was envisioned. The way Lackey's arm was hanging, straight down, one wondered if he'd blown out his elbow again. Surely, if he had, Lackey's career was over. At his age, it would be tough to come back.

Turned out to be just a bicep strain and Lackey was back on the mound 22 days later. He made 29 starts overall and Lackey's 3.52 ERA was the lowest he's posted since he led the American League with a 3.01 mark in 2007. His record of 10 wins against 13 losses was more a reflection of, at times, poor run support or the Red Sox's bullpen blowing late leads.

All of that's in the past. Lackey's looking ahead to an opportunity for the Red Sox to clinch a world championship on home turf for the first time since 1918.

The man of few words didn't need many to sum up the feeling of what it would be like to celebrate at Fenway Park.

"It would be awesome."

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