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Lackey picks up where he left off

2/20/2014

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox pitcher John Lackey was motivated by one image during the 2013 season. After missing the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, the veteran right-hander imagined himself standing on the pitcher’s mound with the ball in his hand in Game 7 of the World Series at Fenway Park.

The image, of course, eventually became a reality, as he earned the clinching victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series last October. Lackey worked 6 2/3 innings and allowed only one run on nine hits to help Boston to a 6-1 win. As he walked off the field in the top of the seventh inning, fans gave him a standing ovation, and he tipped his cap in appreciation.

On Thursday, after the club’s first official full-squad workout in Fort Myers, Lackey recalled the experience.

“That was pretty awesome,” he said. “It was a special feeling. The whole night was special. You could feel it in the atmosphere even when I was warming up. It was something that’s going to be tough to beat. That was pretty cool.”

During his time with the Red Sox, Lackey has heard plenty of boos, too. Now, with a World Series in his back pocket, he’s earned new respect in Boston.

“It’s been a crazy ride, that’s for sure,” Lackey said.

When asked if he felt he had something to prove to his critics last season, Lackey said: “I don’t think many people who know me personally wrote me off. It was great, for sure. Coming through a surgery there’s a lot of hard work that was put in just to get back out on the field, much less to perform well once you get there. To have a good year, for the team to win a championship, it probably couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Between his regular-season work and the playoffs, Lackey reached the 200-inning mark, which is something he prides himself on accomplishing each year. Prior to last season, he knew he still had that in him, he said.

“Yes, without a doubt,” he said. “I busted my ass last offseason.”

This year, for the first time in his career with the Red Sox, he arrived at spring training healthy.

“It’s a lot easier this year,” Lackey said. “I don’t have to do some of the rehab stuff I had to do last year. I can just get into regular workouts and I’m feeling great physically.”

He’s also banking on having a better season than last year now that he’s two years removed from surgery.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to with the surgery, the second year they do feel even better, they do feel stronger,” Lackey said. “But a lot of them weren’t 35, too. I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work to be ready again for this season, so I’m pretty confident going into it.”

When John Farrell was named manager in the winter of 2012, he spoke about the importance of getting Lackey healthy and productive.

“More than anything, he was able to go out and compete against the guy 60 feet away, rather than competing against his body,” Farrell said Thursday.

“He was back to the point where he was able to lead by example, and then give his impressions and experiences against a given lineup to the guy who’s following him, so he was freed up to do what he’s been doing so well for a long period of time. By everything evident of this camp, he’s picking up right where he left off.”

If you talk to Lackey's past or current teammates, they will all say he’s the perfect guy to have in the clubhouse. He also would rather talk about his teammates than himself. When asked to describe how good the Red Sox rotation could be this season, he said: “It could definitely be as good as any I’ve been on. We were the last ones standing last year, so that says something.

“We have a lot of guys with a lot of personal pride in working every day and not looking too far ahead," he said. "That makes easy motivation -- just worry about today, try to get better today and see where you end up at the end.”