Nothing like a couple of "W"s to start the 2014 season for John Lackey.
The last time Lackey started a real game for the Red Sox, he scattered nine hits and allowed just one earned run over 6.2 innings as Boston smote St. Louis 6-1 to win Game 6 and the World Series at Fenway Park.
The stakes were considerably lower for Lackey and the Red Sox Wednesday night in Baltimore. Things got a little more routine following Opening Day and a Selfie Fest that that included a visit to the White House and, more importantly, Walter Reed National Medical Center.
Lackey continued his mastery of the Orioles, allowing just a two-run homer to Nelson "50-Game PED Suspension in 2013" Cruz in Boston's 6-2 victory. Lackey threw 90 pitches, struck out six, walked one, and allowed just two more singles in the Red Sox first win of 2014. At one stretch, he retired 11 straight batters. He also retired the final seven batters he faced.
There hasn't been another player in recent Red Sox or Boston sports history who has enjoyed such fast and furious redemptive status than Lackey. And Lackey never left town. Two years ago, Lackey was universally reviled outside the Red Sox clubhouse. He was the personification of all that was wrong with the epic fail that was the Boston Red Sox. Overpaid, overweight, underperforming, non-performing, obnoxious [there's that word again], and seemingly apathetic about it all.
Maybe some fans and media members never wavered in their support of Lackey. Somewhere. Not here.
Lackey's 2011 was destroyed by an ailing elbow, that eventually required Tommy John surgery, chicken, and beer. The Red Sox lost five of his Lackey's final six starts in 2011. His final win that year came on Aug. 23. In his final five starts, he went 0-2 with a 9.13 ERA in only 23.2 innings. That finish was good enough for Lackey to earn our first-ever "Negative 10th Player Award," earning 53 percent of the nearly 3,500 votes cast. He spent 2012 double-fisting in rehab with the Red Sox, all along he collected his $15.520 million salary.
The five-year, $82.5 million contract that Lackey and Theo Epstein agreed to was one of those albatrosses that seemed to consign the Red Sox to the purgatory of his injury and mediocrity until it mercifully ended in 2014.
However, Theo did the Red Sox a solid. The deal also includes a team option for 2015, which was activated after he missed the 2012 season, that binds Lackey to the Red Sox for only $500,000.
So Lackey isn't going anywhere.
A year ago, that statement would be much more a threat than a promise. Lackey's exploits in 2013 have been well documented. His biggest liability last season was run support. There were plenty of runs Wednesday. The Red Sox scored three or fewer runs for Lackey in 15 of his 29 starts. Wednesday night, Boston took the lead for good 4-2 after the player formerly known as Mike Napoli demolished a 91-m.p.h. Ubaldo Jimenez fastball that landed in deep left-center field.
David Ortiz, who denied his infamous selfie with President Obama was a paid promotional stunt for the same company that produces the POS smartphone I use, launched a selfie of his own into the right-field stands to score Dustin Pedroia and give Boston a 2-0 lead in the third.
"It wasn't anything promotional or anything like that," Ortiz told reporters before the game. "I mean, who knows that you're going to get a picture with the president, a selfie? You can't guarantee that."
Ortiz, he of the $16 million Second Annual Lifetime Achievement Award, and that same phone company, could take any revenue they just happened to generate after tweeting out that photo with the nation's commander-in-chief to a worthy cause like The One Fund or the Wounded Warriors Project, just to reinforce his point.
Lackey chose a different president to pose with on Tuesday. In true Lackey "I Don't Give An [Expletive] What You Think Style," he posted with a portrait of the nation's 43rd president in a photo that was shared on the Red Sox' Twitter feed, but didn't generate quite the buzz that Ortiz's selfie with President Obama did. Given the Bay State's political leanings, it seemed to be as much a tweak as a tweet.
Now, you don't have to be a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to know that George W. Bush is probably not the most popular politician in Boston, across Massachusetts or throughout New England. In 2000, Bush scored just 32 percent of the vote in Massachusetts. Four years later, Bush got 36 percent of the vote against John Kerry. In Suffolk County, the home of Boston and Fenway Park, Bush was crushed by Kerry 75.8 percent to 22.8 percent.
Lackey knows how to pick 'em, especially when he wants to send a little selfie message of his own. Lackey never really seemed to care - at least based on what he expressed publicly - about what you or I think. He did crack a smile after the Red Sox won the World Series.
He is no doubt beloved in Boston now. Winning remains the ultimate antiseptic. We may never know how much of it is reciprocated.
This "Texas Tough Guy," and he was as tough as anyone on the team during his post-season run last October, has to be loving and loathing the lovefest he's receiving in Boston these days. How tough was Lackey in the postseason? He beat David Price, Justin Verlander, and, after losing Game 2, the best pitcher in St. Louis since Bob Gibson [at least according to Tim McCarver] the amazing, incredible and still-can't-believe-he-lost-a-game Michael Wacha.
Dropping a shoutout to George W. Bush on Twitter could be taken as the ultimate red flag to those who may vote the deepest of blue. Lackey's "W" Wednesday means far more to the Red Sox fans and their fans than any nod to "W" on Twitter. His tweet is likely playing much better in Texas than it is in Boston.
Ortiz did a much better job when it came to playing the hometown favorite.
David Ortiz (@davidortiz) April 1, 2014
Obama received 62 percent of the vote in Massachusetts in 2008 and 60.8 percent in 2012. The selfie of Ortiz and the president, sponsorship or not, is terrific photo based on its composition, lighting, and the expression on their faces. Never mind the two people in the photo are The Prince of Red Sox Nation and the President of the United States. Partisan views not-withstanding, there is plenty of power in that tweet.
Lackey wasn't getting paid, as far as we know, to pose with President Bush. He is getting paid plenty to pitch this season, working off the final full-price year of his contract. It is nearly incomprehensible still to imagine that the best move for the Red Sox might be to extend Lackey another year or two, at whatever market value might be. [Perhaps two years at $25 million.] Lackey, whether he's making $500,000 for next season to close out his time with the Red Sox or working off an extension, will still be considerably cheaper for the Red Sox than shelling out $130-$140 million for Jon Lester over six years.
Thankfully, given his usually terse on-the-record statements, Lackey seems unlikely to follow the path of Ortiz and passive-aggressively negotiate through State Run Media and other outlets if/when it comes time to talk an extension with the Red Sox. If it happens, it will just happen. No drama. Imagine that.
If Lackey continues to receive anything close to the run support he got in Wednesday night's victory and he remains healthy, there's no reason to believe he can't improve on his 10-13 record this season and keep his ERA under 4.00 [it was 3.52 last year] while giving the Red Sox 200-plus innings as the team's No. 2 starter and, at least for now, designated stopper.
The Red Sox scored six or more runs five times in 2013 when Lackey pitched in the regular season. With Ortiz, Napoli and Dustin Pedroia [four hits and another epic dive in the hole to end the second inning and rob J.J. Hardy of a sure basehit] hitting like it was July at Fenway, Lackey had more than enough backing to overcome Cruz's home run and the lone walk he gave up with two out in the fourth inning that preceded it.
Pedrioa's play is worth another look.
Lackey doesn't overpower batters, not any more. His success comes from spotting and movement. He closed the game with a seven-pitch sixth inning. That was a slight drop off from his six-pitch sixth inning against the Cardinals in Game 6. Sixty-eight of his 90 pitchers were strikes, and save for the walk and homer in the fourth, he was on target all night. He worked quickly and thanked A.J. Pierzynski for calling a solid game. "I always try to work pretty quick, especially when you're throwing strikes and feeling pretty good about it," Lackey said. "When he's throwing down the one you're looking for, things kind of roll pretty good."
There is likely more and better to come. Lackey said after the game it might take another month for him to fully build up his arm strength. These solid, low-run-yield six-inning affairs could evolve into eight-inning outings by the time school gets out in late June.
Whether we like it or not.
The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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