David Price. Check.
Justin Verlander. Check.
Boston's "Miracle Week" continued with "Redemption Tuesday" as Lackey Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara combined on a six-hitter to declaw and neuter the Tigers 1-0 in Game 3 of the American League championship series.
Lackey beating Verlander as the Red Sox shut out the Tigers on the road to take a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.
Shocking. Amazing. Miraculous. He's the Bill Clinton of Red Sox "Comeback Kids."
The Rodney Dangerfield of the Red Sox has been wearing No. 41 for two years. Fans, members of the media, radio talk-show hosts, TV hosts and the Knights of Twitter have accorded Lackey "no respect."
Even his own team hasn't thrown in behind Lackey. You cannot buy a pre-made "Lackey No. 41" jersey on the official RedSox.Com website. Go to the site and search under "John Lackey" and you'll come up five pages of results that include some collectible items and links for custom-made jerseys. You can put virtually anyone's name on the back of one of those. But the site has no Lackey t-shirts or jerseys. There are ready-made t-shirts and jersey's featuring names like Victorino, Pedroia, Ortiz, Lester, Ellsbury, Peavy, Middlebrooks, Bradley Jr. There's even a "Gonzalez 28" t-shirt on sale for $19.97.
But no clothing with Lackey's name on it, save for the #GetBeard shirt and some playoff roster shirts. Nothing. Nada. Ziltch.
Lucky for the Red Sox, Lackey was wearing a Boston jersey Tuesday.
Big games in the postseason are nothing new for Lackey, who got the victory for the Angels in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. But they are a novelty for Lackey during his time Boston. This is his first playoff run in a Red Sox uniform after pocketing about $66 million of John W. Henry's money. For that kind of dough, Henry could buy himself a newspaper. Not just one at the newsstand, but the one on Morrissey Boulevard.
Heading into Tuesday's game, Lackey's former teammate Torii Hunter of the Tigers said Lackey was a "freaking awesome" pitcher. The Red Sox had been waiting for the "freaking awesome" version of Lackey since he was signed by Theo Epstein in December of 2009 for a five-year contract that would cost the Red Sox $82.5 million.
Score one for "The Monster" - finally.
The first inning on Tuesday started on a perilous note for Lackey as he gave up two hits before working his way out of trouble by getting Victor Martinez to fly out to end the first.
Then the lights at Comerica Park went dark, causing a 17-minute delay.
After that, Lackey was light's out, Bud, until he was somewhat forcibly removed by John Farrell with two outs and runner on base in the seventh. He struck out eight, gave up just four hits and only threw 97 pitches. He displayed a biting curve ball, often deploying it on two-strike counts, that kept the Tigers swinging at pitches down and away. His fastball and cutter found its spot all night, especially after the brief blackout appeared to help him expend some extra energy.
He also fired a "death stare" when Farrell removed him in the seventh, making Farrell the bravest guy in Detroit on Tuesday.
"You've gotta be [expletive]-ing me!" he yelled somewhere in Farrell's direction.
He wasn't the only one. But Farrell's micro-managing proved correct and Lackey's victory and his biggest signature moment with the Red Sox was preserved.
Lackey's time in Boston has been weighed down by sub-par numbers, his co-starring role in "Hell, Yeah, We Like Beer and Chicken," Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow after the 2011 season and a few double-fisting cameos in the 2012 Red Sox clubhouse.
Until Tuesday, Lackey had been working off his contract in thousands, not millions. If this wasn't his "J.D. Drew grand-slam" moment, it came awfully close. If he didn't earn all his $82.5 million, he earned at least half. And this series goes seven games, he might have a chance to earn the other half on Sunday night at Fenway Park.
The way things are going for the Tigers, they may lose this series in five games and only give up nine runs to the Red Sox in the process.
But that's their problem. The Red Sox are doing the bare minimum at the plate to win in this series. One swing from Mike Napoli was enough for Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen.
This is how championships are won. Pitching, pitching and more pitching.
In 2004, it took Curt Schilling, Martinez and nearly flawless performances by Derek Lowe [as both a starter and reliever] and Keith Foulke. In 2007, it was more Schilling, vintage Josh Beckett, Dice-K's lone shining moment in Boston and Jonathan Papelbon "Riverdancing" his way into our hearts.
This postseason, the developing storyline centers around Jon Lester [who got the win in Boston's last World Series victory], Lackey and and combination of Tazawa and Breslow clearing the way for Uehara.
Lackey's been an outcast of sorts this season as his story progressed on a separate track far from all those visits to #WalkOffCity. But he has become a necessary variable in any championship formula for Team Chemistry this October. Boston was shutout in six of his 13 losses. And the fact that Lackey didn't explode like Ortiz's bat did on that dugout phone in Baltimore each time his teammates let him down this season was considered progress.
"You can anticipate John not wanting to come out of the game," Farrell said after the victory. "And that's what makes him such a competitor. I'd rather have him come off arguing than come off with his head down."
And after keeping the Red Sox above water in the ALCS, Lackey has plenty of reason to hold his head high.
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