On Wednesday night, John Lackey took the ball for the Boston Red Sox and threw 7.1 innings of three-run baseball, helping to lead the Red Sox to a pivotal 4-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles. For Lackey, the game was not only a big game because it comes in the midst of a pennant race, but because he is even pitching at all.
Since signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract prior to the 2010 season, Lackey has gone through a roller coaster of events that have both altered his life and career, and made it a miracle he is still even pitching in MLB.
During Lackey’s first season in Boston, he went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, good stats for an average player, but not for one that was signed with the expectation that he could perform like an ace. Things would only go downhill from there as Lackey put up a dreadful line of 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA during the 2011 season. He allowed the most earned runs in the major leagues, and became embroiled in scandals both inside and outside the clubhouse.
Outside of Fenway Park, things quickly went downhill for Lackey as he first had to deal with his wife going through chemotherapy, and then a subsequent divorce from her. This was a noticeably touchy subject when reporters tried to question him about it.
Inside the clubhouse, there was the matter of the team’s pitchers allegedly eating fried chicken and drinking beer during regular season games as the Red Sox had an epic collapse in September. This collapse earned the team’s pitching staff a huge amount of criticism and led to the ouster of popular Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
The firing was blamed largely on Lackey, and he became a scapegoat for both reporters and fans looking to vent their frustration.
With things spiraling out of control for Lackey, the 2011 offseason appeared to be the perfect time for him to relax and come back with a vengeance in 2012. But an examination of his arm during the offseason showed he had a damaged ulnar collateral ligament and needed Tommy John surgery that knocked out his 2012 season before it ever started.
After the surgery, things looked so bad for Lackey that many people thought he would never pitch in another MLB game.
But instead of it all resulting in Lackey’s career going downhill, it actually sent it back in the right direction. Since coming to spring training this year, he has looked considerably thinner; he reportedly lost 12-15 pounds and had a revival in his ability to locate his pitches on the mound.
While he is not an overpowering pitcher, Lackey has been able to rack up an 8-11 record with an impressive 3.19 ERA over 155 innings pitched this season by limiting baserunners with only 33 walks.
This comeback has been pivotal as the Red Sox have surprised baseball minds to establish a 2.5-game lead in the AL East as of Wednesday night. It is especially incredible considering that many expected Lackey’s career to be over after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and his redemption should result in him being awarded the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award when the 2013 season concludes.