This has been a common mannerism for Lackey this season, but not all is lost.
Well for starters, that really ISN'T the question and for anyone calling for Lackey's head or his demotion to the bullpen, shame on you. I'm not just saying that because of his fantastic outing this evening (7.2 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 K, 1 RBI, no balls hit to Gonzo), but because of John Lackey the competitor.
Who is he? Have you ever heard a Lackey press conference (aside from the "everything in my life sucks" one)? The guy is a gamer, he has an urgency to his tone and his responses that screams, "I AM SICK OF BEING THE WEAK LINK HERE." He wants to be out there. For the Angels, Lackey was the man, leading LA of Anaheim to a slew of AL West crowns and a 2002 World Series title. What did that get John? A 5 year, $82.5 million contract, that most players what sit on. Not Lackey, who came into camp as a Sox rookie down a bunch of weight and ready to make a place for himself. He went 14-11 in his first season, struggling at times, amassing 140 K's (his fourth highest career total) and a 4.40 ERA.
Now let's look at the signing at the time it occurred. Who in Boston was upset at this? Jason Bay supporters (cricket) (cricket). Who would you rather have right now? A potential top of the rotation guy? Or a troubled and often injured left fielder? I'll take Lackey anyday, especially in a day and age where pitching is at a premium and given the status of the current Sox rotation (Buchholz on the DL, Beckett just getting back, Dice K). For God's sake, the headline on ESPNBoston.com was "Pair of Aces" when comparing Lackey and Beckett. Did people think he would come in and be the #2 guy? Yes. Realistically, looking at a rotation of Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz emerging as a bona fide starter, combined with the AL West to AL East adjustment (underrated), the expectations were far too high.
Let's face it, Lackey has not been Mr. Consistent and he certainly isn't worth his $16 million paycheck, but given the array of distractions and issues thrown his way this season, I think he has turned a corner. With the exception of the San Diego, rain soaked game, Lackey has pitched well as of late and since coming off the DL in his last five starts. In a season where his nagging elbow injury WILL merit Tommy John surgery, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he has had to hear the countless doubts about him, it hasn't been Lackey's finest hour. He has, however, not made excuses and has come to play each day. Sometimes will doesn't translate, but when you see a guy work that hard and care that much, especially with those distractions, you have to at least take notice.
That brings me back to tonight, where Lackey shined. All day on WEEI and The Sports Hub (sick joke) I heard the experts saying how concerned they were about Lackey, moreso than Gonzo in right field, and rightfully so. He came out and gamed though and really earned some points (from me at least). The baseball gods just weren't looking in on him tonight and it was unfortunate, because he pitched a great game. I am willing to give Lackey an adjustment period while understanding that although his 5 year $82.5 million contract is nowhere near worth it, he can contribute. I get that he isn't a #1 guy anymore, and he probably won't be, but that's the beauty of playing in Boston. He doesn't need to be. His next start will be on the 4th of July, let's see what he can do.