BOSTON -- Two years ago, John Lackey was the face of the chicken-and-beer Red Sox.
The Red Sox experienced a historic September collapse, losing 20 of their final 27 games, and stories of the team's in-game behavior broke after the season. Lackey and fellow veteran Josh Beckett were painted as the leaders of a group that lost interest.
And it didn't help that Lackey had the worst season of his career: 12-12, 6.41 ERA. As it turned out, Lackey was pitching with a shoulder injury and had Tommy John surgery after the season.
He missed all of last season, but remained the most disliked player on the roster.
But Lackey has come full circle in Boston. As he pitched the Red Sox to the World Series title Wednesday night, he left to a rousing standing ovation in the seventh inning. Lackey tipped his cap as he approached the dugout.
Lackey allowed one run on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings in Game 6. He worked out of jams most of the night, but kept the Cardinals scoreless into the seventh.
And as he was working through the seventh, chants of "Lackey, Lackey" filled Fenway Park.
Lackey's comeback really began last year, when he worked hard to lose weight and change his body shape. He returned this season slimmer and better-conditioned, and it showed in his results: 10-13, but with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP (walks and hits per inning).
"Where John deserves all the credit is the way he reshaped his body, what he put himself through physically last offseason," manager John Farrell said. "And it's played out. He's, I think, shown a different side of him this year."
Building On Bogaerts
The performance of infielder Xander Bogaerts throughout the postseason has given the Red Sox hope that their minor league organization will supplement the roster in the coming years.
Bogaerts, 21, has given the Red Sox some of their best at-bats throughout the American League Championship Series and World Series. Heading into Wednesday night's Game 6, he was 8-for-23 (.348) with a .467 on-base percentage and a .565 slugging percentage. He also had six walks.
Bogaerts, who is from Aruba, was considered one of the best prospects in baseball this season, with production at Double A Portland (.311/.407/.502 in 56 games) and Triple A Pawtucket (.284/.369/.453 in 60 games). He was promoted to the Red Sox in August and has seized the starting third base job from Will Middlebrooks in the postseason.
Besides Bogaerts, the Red Sox have center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. as the likely replacement if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves as a free agent. The organization also has a wave of pitchers rising through the system.
"I think we're in a very healthy place," Farrell said. "We have some power arms that are closing in on their debut, as well. But I think that's where (GM Ben Cherington) has put this organization in such a healthy place."
As he constructed the roster for the 2013 Red Sox, Cherington focused on signing players to short-term contracts.
The rationale: Boston's minor league organization would be producing players over the next few years, so the organization didn't want to be weighed down by expensive long-term contracts. The "bridge year" approach was mocked by some in the Boston media, but it has turned out to be a rousing success.
And in addition to enjoying the team's postseason run, Red Sox fans have witnessed the first product of the organization's commitment to player development, Bogaerts.
Against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in Game 5, Bogaerts struck out before singling twice. His seventh-inning single sparked a rally.
"Xander Bogaerts is maybe one of the best young players I've seen," veteran catcher David Ross said. "The professional at-bats he's thrown on this stage, it boggles my mind. And what I would be doing as a 21-year-old in the World Series, I can't even ... I would be in awe."
"Am I nervous?" Bogaerts said this week. "Definitely. I'm human. I'm definitely nervous before the game. But during the game I try to stay as calm as possible and just enjoy the moment."
Bogaerts' poise and ability to work at-bats against elite postseason pitching has only solidified his stature with the Red Sox. Starting shortstop Stephen Drew is a free agent after the season, so it's conceivable that Bogaerts will slide to his natural position as the starter in 2014.
Shane Victorino (stiff lower back) returned to the Red Sox lineup for Game 6 after missing two games. Victorino has been the No. 2 hitter all season, but he was inserted in the No. 6 slot as Farrell kept Dustin Pedroia in the second spot. David Ortiz batted third, Mike Napoli fourth and Jonny Gomes fifth.
"Much with the approach of trying to lengthen out the lineup behind (Ortiz) from Game 5, I feel like that might be in need here," Farrell said. "In talking with Vic (Tuesday) ... he's completely comfortable with it."
"Most importantly, we've got him back in right field. He's unrestricted. Moving him down the lineup was not with the intent that one or two less at-bats because of a volume-related issue, because of a physical thing he's dealing with; that's not it at all. It's just how we feel the lineup matches up the best."
The Red Sox will have some significant free agents this winter, including Ellsbury, Drew, Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Farrell was asked how he's been dealing with the uncertainty. "To be as consistent and honest with them as possible," Farrell said. "That conversation about what's pending for them this offseason has never come before their work and what our goal is on a given night. And that's to their credit. They've been great team players. The system will take care of itself, and they're all well aware of that. Some guys for the first time, they're going to approach free agency. But the overriding priority and the ultimate goal is where we stand today." ... The Dropkick Murphy's were back at Fenway Park, performing the national anthem and a pregame rendition of "I'm Shipping Up To Boston." The Boston-based band did the anthem and its song before Game 6 of the ALCS. ... Luis Tiant tossed the ceremonial first pitch to former teammate Carlton Fisk. ... Pedroia and Victorino won Gold Glove Awards on Tuesday. Victorino has won it before as a center fielder, but this is his first Gold Glove as a right fielder. "It means a lot," Victorino said. "More than anything I think the magnitude of moving to right field, the magnitude of playing in Fenway Park, this was a big surprise." ... The Cardinals' flight to Boston was delayed Tuesday, so the team sat on the plane for hours before departing after 9 p.m. The team didn't arrive in Boston until 11 p.m. "I can't tell you how impressed I was with how everybody handled it," manager Mike Matheny said. "We travel a lot, so you kind of anticipate that everything is going to go smooth, and it has all season. And you get to this time of year, and things kind of went in a different direction. But it was amazing how the guys handled that long of a time ... I didn't hear any complaining at all."
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