BOSTON -- In so many ways, it was fitting that John Lackey was the winning pitcher when the Boston Red Sox clinched the 2013 World Series crown with a 6-1 romp over St. Louis in Game 6 at Fenway Park.
"His turnaround mirrors that of this organization," manager John Farrell said late Wednesday night while taking a break in the team's raucous celebration.
"I think people have seen the turnaround in him; they've seen the turnaround in us."
A sign of reconciliation between Lackey and Red Sox Nation occurred when he walked to the home dugout after being lifted by Farrell in the seventh inning. With the crowd loudly applauding his effort, the veteran right-hander tipped his cap in recognition.
It would have been an unthinkable scene in 2011, when he was Public Enemy No. 1 at Fenway. Flopping badly after signing a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent deal before the 2010 season, Lackey became a symbol of the team's late collapse in '11, when manager Terry Francona was ousted over the revelation that the inmates were running the asylum, eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games.
It didn't get any better for Lackey or the Red Sox last year. He sat out while recovering from Tommy John surgery and the club plummeted to last place under the toxic regime of manager Bobby Valentine, who was one-and-done after the 69-win season.
"I didn't play last year, but I got blamed for that one, too," said Lackey, who was cut no slack in part due to his churlish nature.
To Lackey's credit, he remade himself physically and mentally during his long, tedious recovery. He returned ready to contribute to the team's bounce-back season and comported himself in a more congenial manner for the most part.
The scars remain, however. When asked to reflect on his redemptive season, Lackey said, "I'll be honest with you. I'm so tired of talking about what I went through."
No one is tired of talking about the series of astute moves made by general manager Ben Cherington that made the Red Sox the first team since Minnesota in 1991 to go from last place to a World Series title in a year's time. The makeover actually began on Aug. 25, 2012 when Cherington lopped off an amazing $264 million in contract commitments, not to mention players who didn't fit, by sending Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a stunning trade.
Cherington used those savings to do some specific shopping on the free-agent market. Concentrating on savvy, well-disciplined veterans who fit a team-first style of play, he signed seven players, all of whom made contributions, either big or small.
First baseman Mike Napoli, outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, shortstop Stephen Drew, catcher David Ross, right-hander Ryan Dempster and late-inning reliever Koji Uehara helped transform the team from train wreck to contender in the rugged AL East.
The biggest move might have been the negotiation that brought Farrell back to the Red Sox. He gave up his role as Boston's pitching coach two years earlier to manage in Toronto, but Cherington saw Farrell as the anti-Valentine -- a calm, reasoned skipper who would put the team first and eliminate the daily drama that turned the 2012 club into something out of Barnum & Bailey.
There were some hiccups along the way. Closer Joel Hanrahan, acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, blew out before opening day and was gone for the season. His replacement, Andrew Bailey, soon followed him to the disabled list.
But Uehara emerged as an indomitable closer with an uncanny, almost magical knack for pounding the strike zone with pitches that couldn't be hit. With late leads safe, the Red Sox piled up victories and surged to the top of the division.
"This is a little early," said team owner John Henry, admitting he didn't envision a complete turnaround in a year's time. "As the season went on, we had more and more of a feeling that this was a special team and they had a special approach.
"They found ways to win. I don't remember thinking it was going to end this way until we won 97 games."
With the added players filling specific voids, holdovers such as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester formed the glue that held the club together. Once they got to the postseason, they used the formula of potent pitching and just enough clutch hitting to keep advancing.
Ortiz emerged as an unstoppable force in the six-game triumph over the Cardinals, with a remarkable .688 batting average and crazy .750 on-base percentage. But it was Gomes who turned the Series with his three-run homer in Game 4. Ross delivered the tie-breaking hit in Game 5. Victorino allowed the Red Sox to solve St. Louis rookie sensation Michael Wacha with a three-run double that ignited the decisive Game 6 victory.
It all came together, on and off the field. Along the way, the Red Sox became a welcome diversion for a city torn apart by the Boston Marathon bombings April 15. "Boston Strong" became the rallying cry and Ortiz helped unite team and city during a pre-game ceremony by taking an on-field microphone and blaring, "This is our (bleeping) city!"
It was a unique chemistry, an unbreakable bond, within the clubhouse as well as between a baseball-crazed region and the rejuvenated team.
"I go back to our players understanding their place in this city," said Farrell. "They kind of, for lack of a better way to describe it, they get it. They get that there's a civic responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, particularly here in Boston. And it became a connection.
"I'm sure that everybody in our uniform, whether they are here going forward or elsewhere, they'll look back on the events that took place and the way things unfolded as a special year. There's no way we can say it any other way."
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