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Before earning the win with 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball in his last start Saturday versus the Baltimore Orioles, John Lackey was almost down and out. He had the highest ERA among pitchers with more than 60 innings this year with 7.47. He even had the highest ERA of a Red Sox pitcher since WWII before the All-Star break. But after facing a roar of booes and probably having an awful barbecue July 4th when he was taken out early in the game against the Blue Jays, Lackey finally emerged Saturday, only allowing three hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.
Hopefully, this is the Lackey Red Sox fans will continue to see. Thankfully, the win comes right before the All-Star break, so Lackey should get plenty of time to recuperate and tend to his personal life. A standing ovation Saturday night from Red Sox fans came at the right time for a pitcher who has had a rough go of it in his time here in Boston.
Earlier this season, Lackey was quoted saying “Everything in my life sucks right now to be honest with you.” A lot of the time, players never allow their personal lives to get in the way of them as athletes, but bottom line is they’re just as human as anyone else. Last year, Lackey’s wife had a miscarriage and this year she was diagnosed with cancer. While Lackey has not been able to live up to the big five-year contract he signed, it seems like when he moved to Boston, the life he also expected to settle into was drastically turned upside down.
Unfortunately, Lackey has definitely been hurting the team and how the Sox have managed to find themselves in first place this season is a strong testament to how players like Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz have stepped it up this year. But, Lackey may prevent the Sox from making a deep run if his struggles persist or if the Sox don’t do something about it. While in his latest start he showed signs of improvement, the Orioles are not the Yankees. The good sign from his last start though is that it seems his fastball had more pop and his breaking ball was as effective as it was in the past, something missing from most of his games this season.
If Lackey was losing his stuff, it’s hard to assume it’s attributed to him getting older, considering he barely older (32) than Beckett (31) right now. Could it be that he’s not working hard enough? Or maybe because he isn’t pitching in the AL West anymore and now facing the Rays and the Yankees on a regular basis?
Let’s face it though, with all of this extra weight on him personally combined with the pressure of living up to playing in Boston, there’s more than just rusty mechanics and work ethic factored into why he isn’t producing. It’s obvious how frustrated he is. In the first inning on the Fourth of July when Drew missed a pop-up foul ball that could have been caught but would have been at least a No. 9 nine on ESPN’s top ten, Lackey looked like he was ready to throw his glove on the ground. When Ortiz charged the mound against the Orioles, Lackey was the first guy on the field ready to throw a punch and unleash some fury. There aren’t any clubhouse issues with Lackey; he just hasn’t had much luck since coming to this town, on and off the field–far from it.
When Lackey spoke about his struggles at home, it seemed like he was almost asking for a break. It would be hard to go in and throw or work out more often when you know your wife is in the hospital going through tests. Unfortunately, the timing for the Sox is bad. But, think about players like Jon Lester that define heroism. This guy beat cancer and now he’s one of the best young pitchers in the league. If that’s not inspiring, then I don’t know what is.
Lackey could become a leader if he could pull through these issues that plague any other human on this planet and helped the Red Sox continue to win. It’s hard to say whether or not Lackey will begin to produce alongside the circumstances but with some time off and support, Lackey should be back to throwing gas and placing K’s on the back wall of the Fenway bleachers.