Veteran finds redemption, earning second career World Series-clinching win
BOSTON -- In manager John Farrell's estimation, John Lackey is the poster child for this year's team. Everything went wrong for Lackey in 2011. Surgery robbed him of his entire 2012 season. Around him, the Red Sox spiraled out of control, falling from perennial contention to last place.
But there Lackey was late Wednesday night, standing on the field, staring at the World Series trophy, admitting how "tired" he was "of talking about what I went through."
Hours earlier, Lackey had stood on the mound, demanding that Farrell let him have one more batter, his work nearly complete in a clinching World Series game.
That Lackey ultimately walked that batter seemed unimportant. He, like the Red Sox, found redemption on a cool October night.
"His turnaround is the organization's -- there's no question," Farrell said after the Red Sox defeated the Cardinals, 6-1, in Game 6. "He did an incredible job of preparing himself, and he carried it through. Whether it's the baseball gods or whatever, the fact that it worked out where he's on the mound in this final game, it is fitting."
In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, two years removed from a 6.41 ERA and all the "chicken and beer" implications, Lackey became the 11th pitcher to win multiple World Series-clinching games. He may not have been perfect on Wednesday, allowing nine hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings, but he was well beyond what the Red Sox needed him to be.
This entire season was like that for Lackey, who won 10 games and recorded a 3.52 ERA. This entire season was like that for the Red Sox, who shot from last place to first in a single season.
"I think what's different is [that] these guys wanted to win so bad," owner John Henry said. "I know just about everyone predicted us to finish last, but we knew this was a good club, and [we realized] that last year a lot of things went wrong that really shouldn't have gone wrong."
So much was so obviously different this time around. Jacoby Ellsbury rebounded from an injury-plagued year. Jon Lester bounced back from a career-worst season. A club that rebelled against its former manager was galvanized under its new one.
Lack is back
Pitchers to win two World Series clinchers
2002 Gm 7
2013 Gm 6
1998 Gm 4
2009 Gm 6
1992 Gm 6
1996 Gm 6
1972 Gm 7
1978 Gm 6
1964 Gm 7
1967 Gm 7
1963 Gm 4
1965 Gm 7
1952 Gm 7
1953 Gm 6
1949 Gm 5
1951 Gm 6
1936 Gm 6
1937 Gm 5
1927 Gm 4
1932 Gm 4
1921 Gm 8
1922 Gm 5
"The turnover has been pretty heavy, but there's been some constants here," Farrell said. "When you think back to David [Ortiz], to Dustin [Pedroia], to Jon Lester, to Jacoby Ellsbury, there are a number of guys here that are still linked to those other years, and they set the tone. I think the new players came in, they looked up to them, tried to get a feel for what it's like to play in Boston -- what the challenges are, how to handle them, how to keep the distractions out -- and that's one of the main reasons that we were able to come so close together and maybe push away the naysayers or the distractions."
Farrell credited general manager Ben Cherington's plan, which began taking shape on the day he made a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in August 2012, shipping many of his most expensive veterans to California. That deal freed Cherington to spend liberally last winter, importing such key free agents as Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara.
"You can't give Ben Cherington enough credit," Farrell said. "He hit it spot on with every guy that he brought in here. To think how quickly they came together as a tight-knit unit -- this is a team in every sense of the word. It's a team concept. They all bought into it. They love to work. And more than anything, there's a will to win here that I've never seen before."
Those could be the words of any fawning manager on the night his team wins the World Series, but they seem to take on added significance considering how poorly the 2012 Red Sox played -- how dysfunctional, on many levels, they admitted last season was.
Contrast those struggles with the successes of this season -- to a team that led the American League East nearly wire to wire, romping through the postseason in three breezy rounds.
"To win 97 games," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said, "it's not by accident."
"There was a lot of stuff last year that obviously wasn't right," pitcher Clay Buchholz said. "But I think everybody stopped comparing this team to last year's team about the first week of the season. The feel was different, the clubhouse was different.
Lester recalled his mind-set late last September, worried only about trimming his ERA back under 5.00. Contrast that with Wednesday, which saw him standing in a corner of the clubhouse, quietly enjoying a bottle of champagne with his family.
"It's an awesome, awesome, awesome group to be a part of," Lester said.
He and his teammates are World Series champions now, in spite of all that happened one year ago.
"That's what this team does -- we turn the page, we move on," Lester said. "As soon as Spring Training starts, we're going to turn the page on this one, we're going to move on, we're going to try to do it again. That's all you can really do."