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Lackey caps comeback season in style

10/31/2013

BOSTON -- Red Sox pitcher John Lackey gave something to the fans -- a tip of his cap.

And the 38,447 in attendance at Fenway Park loved it.

Most important, the veteran right-hander delivered a World Series title. He worked 6 2/3 innings and gave up only one run and nine hits with one walk and five strikeouts to lead the Red Sox to a 6-1 clinching victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the Fall Classic on Wednesday night.

After Boston's victory, his teammates doused him in his favorite beer -- Bud Light -- and followed it up with a champagne blast. Lackey, who missed the entire 2012 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, returned with a vengeance this season. He produced when his team, this city and its fans needed it most.

"It was an awesome opportunity," Lackey said. "The guys played great all year and I had an absolute blast playing with this team. We've all worked our butt off to get to here and we're going to have a little bit of fun."

Lackey was dialed in from the start. In fact, knowing he would get the ball in Game 6, he has been incredibly focused in the last few days. His teammates knew enough to stay away from him and let him do his job.

With the Red Sox leading 6-0 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Lackey surrendered a single, a double, and then an RBI single to Carlos Beltran before Red Sox manager John Farrell emerged from the dugout to make the trip to the mound.

Lackey quickly signaled to the manager to stay in the dugout, but Farrell walked out and the two conversed. Farrell then returned to the dugout, and Lackey remained on the mound.

Lackey walked Matt Holliday to load the bases, and that was it for Lackey.

"I finally won one, but I'm probably not going to win the next one because I didn't get the guy out," Lackey said of convincing Farrell to let him stay in the game to face Holliday.

As Lackey walked off the mound, the fans gave him a standing ovation, chanting, "Lac-key, Lac-key, Lac-key."

"Pretty cool, man. Pretty cool," Lackey said. "I've heard a lot of different other ones, so it was nice."

As Farrell stood on the mound, waiting for reliever Junichi Tazawa to run in from the bullpen, the manager soaked up the crowd's heartfelt appreciation for his starter.

"It gave me chills to hear the response that he deservedly received coming off the field," Farrell said.

Then, Lackey did something he has never done in Boston -- he tipped his cap.

"It was nice. They've understood what I've gone through, I guess, and this is a town that likes a winner and we're winners," Lackey said.

It's no secret that Lackey didn't appreciate the tough treatment he received in his first couple of years in Boston. But the only thing he truly cares about is his teammates, and to a man, they think Lackey is the best teammate you could hope to have.

"Obviously his career here didn't get off to the start he wanted to, but there's nobody else I would want on the mound than John Lackey," said fellow starter Jon Lester. "He competes his butt off every time he takes the ball. It may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but the guy goes out there and competes and gives us a chance to win every time he takes that ball, and that's all you can ask.

"He's one of the best teammates, best guys I've ever been around and I couldn't be happier for him tonight to win in this situation."

With his Game 6 win, Lackey becomes the first pitcher ever to start and win the clinching game of a World Series for two different teams. As a rookie, he won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels against the San Francisco Giants.

"I heard that," he said of his achievement. "I'm a huge baseball fan, I love this game and to do anything in this game, and for me to be the first guy is pretty damn cool."

When asked how he could compare this victory to his first with the Angels, Lackey said it's not even close.

"Honestly, looking back on it, I mean, you know what you're playing for when you go into a game like this," he said. "I think it's almost better to be young and dumb sometimes when you go into these situations. [Now] you know what you're playing for and you know how hard it is to get here. It makes everything more special when you get it done."

Lackey usually works with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but Farrell decided David Ross would serve as the starter's battery mate for Game 6.

"He was amazing," Ross said. "John pitched like he could, like we knew he could. He's a stud. We've got a bunch of guys who go out there and put their necks on the line every night, guys that want to go to battle for each other and it's a great group to be a part of."

While he was rehabbing from elbow surgery, Lackey envisioned standing on the mound at Fenway Park in a World Series-clinching game and winning it for the Red Sox. During spring training he said he wanted to prove everyone wrong.

He did that, and he accomplished his goal.

While celebrating in the clubhouse after the victory, he didn't want to talk about his personal accomplishments, directing all the attention to his teammates.

"The chemistry was unbelievable in the clubhouse," Lackey said. "You could feel it during spring training, but we have good ballplayers, too. Chemistry hasn't won anything, but it helps when you care about each other and I think that translates on the field, too."

It translated into a World Series championship, the third in the last decade for the Red Sox.