BOSTON (CBS) - One win away from their third World Series title in the last nine years, the Boston Red Sox turn to John Lackey to close things out against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Once viewed as one of the ringleaders of the "Beer And Chicken" group of 2011, the 35-year-old has made an astounding comeback, both to the mound and in the eyes of the Fenway faithful. After missing all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Lackey impressed his critics on the mound with his 3.52 regular season ERA and off of it with an attitude focused on winning and proving his doubters wrong.
Now his team sits one victory away from baseball's promised land, and a chance to clinch the first World Series at Fenway Park since 1918.
"It would be awesome," Lackey said Tuesday afternoon at Fenway. "As far as personally, I'm just thinking about executing pitches and trying to win a game. Hopefully we get to that point."
Lackey has given his team an opportunity to win each time he's taken the mound this postseason. He is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in four appearances (three starts), and pitched well in Game 2 of the series. Lackey only allowed three runs off five hits, striking out six over 6 1/3 innings, but suffered the loss as a poor throw to third base by reliever Craig Breslow gave the Cardinals a 4-2 win.
But now he has a chance to do what he's wanted to do since he began his rehab last Spring: win the game that clinches the championship for his team.
Not many gave the Red Sox a chance this season following a 69-win campaign in 2012, but Lackey knew from the start of Spring Training the team could be something special if they all worked together.
"These days the word 'expert' gets thrown out way too much, first of all," Lackey said with a laugh. "We had a great group of guys, great chemistry. You could feel (it) from the start and had a lot of guys with some rings, a lot of guys that have been on playoff teams. Our expectations were high. We definitely wanted to make the playoffs. And once you get in the playoffs, you never know what can happen at that point."
Red Sox manager John Farrell said Lackey's transformation in the eyes of the fans can be traced to the work ethic he's shown not just this season, but throughout his recovery in 2012.
"The protocol for the rehab of Tommy John is pretty straight forward, and that doesn't mean it's a guarantee to get back to previous levels of performance. But where John deserves all the credit is the way he reshaped his body, what he put himself through physically last offseason, and seeing him and meeting with him early last December it was clear that the reshaping of what he went through, coming away from that meeting I felt like he had as much opportunity to impact this team as anyone," said Farrell.
"And it's played out. He's, I think, shown a different side of him this year," the manager added. "And it had to start with his performance on the mound, which has been very consistent. But the way which he's interacted with people around here, maybe just the perception has changed with John, and rightfully so, it all goes back to John."
Lackey will once again be opposed by 22-year-old right-hander Michael Wacha, who held the Sox to two runs over six innings in Game 2, earning his fourth win of the playoffs. Lackey can relate with the young hurler, as he found himself playing a major role in the World Series as a rookie as well back in 2002. A 24-year-old Lackey got the start for the Anaheim Angels in Game 7, holding the San Francisco Giants to one run over five innings as the Angels clinched their first World Series title in franchise history.
Heyman On Gresh & Zo: The Transformation Of John Lackey
Wacha may have earned the win in Game 2 and his young arm has been unhittable at times this postseason, but the Red Sox lineup made him work, forcing four walks and scoring two runs in his six innings. Now the team returns home after taking two of three in St. Louis, and two shots at the World Series trophy.
"We're definitely confident," said Lackey. "We played pretty good here this season and the place, the atmosphere is going to be great. The fans are going to be crazy. But you've still got to focus on the task at hand, executing and just playing baseball. We're still one win away."
MORE RED SOX COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON
for more features.