Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The John Lackey Redemption Tour Rolls On

One of the great ironies of last night's game is that it was nearly business as usual for starting pitcher John Lackey: he pitched a great start, and had the misfortune to be sharing the mound with one of the game's premier hurlers.

Thankfully, last night's game did not include the total dearth of run support Lackey tolerated in the regular season. Sure, the Red Sox scored just a single run, but it was enough as Lackey made it through more than six innings, giving up no runs on four hits and eight strikeouts - with just 97 pitches.

In the past, Lackey's tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve has gotten him into trouble. He would grimace when his teammates botched a play, and shout when the umpire's call didn't go the way he wanted. Last night was no different in terms of transparent passion, but the context was much more positive.

It was obvious that Lackey didn't want to give up the ball in the seventh inning. It was just as obvious that he sincerely believed in the relievers coming behind him, and that there was no consideration of escaping the dugout for beer or chicken after his departure.

It's taken this miraculous season for most Red Sox fans to really root for John Lackey. Many of us saw him as overpaid and under-motivated, and Red Sox Nation certainly knows how to hold a grudge. But Lackey's teammates never had any such qualms, as the big righthander is often cited as one of the best and most supportive personalities in the clubhouse.

I've never been one of those people who thinks great personality and chemistry is a replacement for talent, and there's no question that the 2013 Red Sox have made it this far because they are excellent baseball players. But bad vibes in the clubhouse can sabotage talented clubs, as selfishness and prioritizing personal goals take over the culture.

There was never any danger of that happening to this team. The two biggest stars on the club, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, are exactly the hardworking personable types you want your young players emulating. The returning players had something to prove, and the new players signed on to a philosophy of team and winning first.

John Lackey, despite his less than impressive W-L record, has been part of that cultural shift. Last night, John Lackey outdueled Justin Verlander, and earned the win in Game 3 of the ALCS. You can bet he'll readily credit his teammates for grinding out at-bats and holding the lead upon his departure, just as surely as they would point to him for an incredible pitching performance.

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