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John Lackey redemption tour sidelined by teammates

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

John Lackey was pretty close to serious redemption.
John Lackey was pretty close to serious redemption. (USATSI)

World Series Game 2: Quick hits | Grades | Recap/box score

BOSTON -- Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey was mostly dominant in Game 2 of the World Series, sporting outstanding command and flashing a pretty nasty curve ball. And yet he came away with the loss, through some -- but only a little -- fault of his own.

In fact, he was working on quite the "Redemption of John Lackey in Boston" angle before it was derailed, in part due to Lackey allowing two baserunners in the seventh, but mostly due to his teammates failing him.

Craig Breslow came on with the runners on first and second in the seventh and a one-run lead. He allowed a double steal, as he wasn't paying enough attention to the runners with light-hitting Daniel Descalso at the plate. And then he walked Descalso to bring up the dangerous Matt Carpenter.

Then, on Carpenter's sac fly, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia booted Jonny Gomes' throw and Breslow picked it up and threw it over third base, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Those runs were charged to Lackey and he took the loss.

"Lackey was great," Saltalamacchia said after the game. "That's exactly what you want your starter to do in a game like this. Unfortunately, we let it slip away."

They did. In a big, bad way.

While Breslow entering the game with two on and one out isn't ideal, he's a reliever. It's his job to get outs in tough spots. And walking Descalso with the top of the order up next? Descalso hit .238/.290/.366 in the regular season. He only walked three times in the regular season against left-handers and the lefty Breslow put him on before Carpenter -- who hit .318/.392/.481 this year and is going to finish in the top 10 of NL MVP voting. Carpenter also isn't a big-time strikeout candidate and only hit into four double plays in the regular season compared to seven sac flies. So having him up with the bases loaded is, well, a pretty tall order.

Bottom line is Breslow put himself in a nearly impossible situation.

Then, it got worse with the errors by Saltalamacchia and Breslow. Breslow then coughed up an insurance run on a Carlos Beltran single.

We would also be remiss to ignore the Red Sox offense. David Ortiz came through with a two-run homer, but that was it. Lack of run support has been a common theme with Lackey, too.

In fact, in the post game press conference, someone asked Lackey if he's just been "unlucky." He actually kind of shrugged his shoulders and conceded that, yes, he has been. What else could he say?

The Red Sox boasted one of baseball's best offenses through the regular season. Ryan Dempster (6.07 runs per game) and Felix Doubront (5.74 RPG) were the top two beneficiaries in all of baseball in run support among regular starters during the regular season. Jon Lester (4.88 RPG) ranked 10th. Lackey? All the way down at 3.76 runs per game.

The Red Sox did score seven for Lackey in Game 2 of the ALDS, but he had to gut out a 1-0 win against the Tigers in the ALCS and Big Papi's two-run job was the only scoring for Lackey Thursday night in Game 2.

Had Lackey come through with the victory after outpitching the great Justin Verlander last round, one could well argue his redemption tour in the city of Boston was complete. Instead, he's left taking the loss in bitter defeat.

"It's just unfortunate," said shortstop Stephen Drew. "We wish we could have gotten 'Lack' the win there because he threw the ball well and we just weren't able to do it."

Had they been able to provide just a bit more help, Lackey's coming out of this game pretty damn popular in Boston, which would be quite the role reversal from the past few years.

Remember, this is a guy who signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to the 2010 season. He was basically an average pitcher in 2010 -- for well above average money, mind you, and people were concentrating on that rather heavily when the Red Sox missed the playoffs -- before being awful in 2011. His role in the historic collapse down the stretch in 2011 was significant, as the Red Sox lost three of his five September starts while he posted a 9.13 ERA that month.

Also, though Lackey wasn't made the central figure in the beer-and-chicken fiasco -- I'd give those honors to now-departed Josh Beckett -- Lackey was involved. And then he missed all of 2012 after having to undergo Tommy John surgery.

During that entire season off, anytime there was talk about bad contracts, Lackey's name was involved. If someone wanted to discredit now-Cubs president Theo Epstein -- who signed Lackey while in Boston -- Lackey's signing was brought up. Heading into the season, expectations for Lackey's performance weren't even remotely optimistic.

And yet, here he was, on the cusp of outbattling both Verlander and rookie sensation Michael Wacha in consecutive outings, until the rest of the Red Sox let him down.

It's a shame Lackey's teammates couldn't pick him up. Game 2 was the perfect opportunity for the redemption tour to come to fruition. Still, I have a feeling his relationship with the Boston fans will be just fine moving forward.

 
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