If you ever go to a game at Fenway Park, you’ll see fans wearing Red Sox t-shirt jerseys of nearly every player to suit up for Boston in the last two decades. Guys like Brian Daubach and Bill Hasselman, yep, they’ve been immortalized in shirsey form. That said, the last few summers it would’ve been a bold statement for any member of ‘The Nation’ to wear a John Lackey custom number, even for dead-inside, ironic purposes.
For a while, Lackey was persona non grata and emblematic of the Red Sox’s stunning fall from grace at the end of the Terry Francona era. It was easy to point to Lackey and his five-year $82.5 million deal signed after the 2009 season as an example that the Fenway braintrust had lost the plot. It’s a safe bet plenty of Sox fans called him a piece of you-know-what over the last two years whenever his mug flashed across the screen on NESN.
And that was before the allegations that Lackey was among the pitchers who’d sit in the clubhouse drinking beer and eating fried chicken on days they weren’t pitching during the 2011 season. It was during that 2011 season when Lackey pitched to a 6.41 ERA, allowing a league-high 114 runs in 160 innings. After that disastrous year Lackey had Tommy John surgery and many Red Sox fans probably hoped the righty would never been seen or heard from again, even if he was owed over $30 million for the 2013 and 2014 seasons with a club option for 2015.
After an early biceps injury scare in April, Lackey is back in the first-place Red Sox rotation this spring and pitching well enough to merit a little redemption after his lost 2012 campaign. He’s slated tonight to throw against the Phillies. In seven starts in 2013 Lackey (3-4) is pitching to a 2.72 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 39.2 innings of work. Those aren’t All-Star numbers, but they’re serviceable for a pitcher who two years ago at age 32 looked completely washed up. Opponents are only batting .224 against Lackey and he’s thrown back-to-back starts without allowing an earned run.
Lackey joins Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are Red Sox starters who seem transformed under manager John Farrell, the club’s former pitching coach. Lester had shaved his ERA from 4.52 in 2012 to 3.34 this season, while Buchholz has gone from 4.56 to 1.73. Not bad considering the Red Sox traded Mike Aviles to Toronto to get Farrell back in the dugout. (Aviles is now in Cleveland.)
It’s still doubtful too many people are going to rush out to buy a Lackey shirsey, but he easily could’ve mailed it in and collected the $30 million he had coming to him, chilling out with chicken in beer instead of toeing the rubber every fifth day.
[Photo via Getty]