AP NEWS

Former Red Sox righty John Lackey always competitive

October 29, 2016 GMT

CHICAGO — After the way it ended for John Lackey in Boston, local baseball fans ought to be twisted about watching him pitch for the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the World Series tonight at Wrigley Field.

Cheer for Lackey, the guy who came back from Tommy John surgery to start the clinching game in the 2013 World Series?

Or jeer him louder than he was booed in 2011, when he allowed more earned runs (114) than any pitcher in baseball and often appeared as carefree as David Price after horrendous outings?

This past winter, on the same day Price was introduced at Fenway Park, it was reported the Cubs would pay Lackey $16 million per season in 2016 and 2017 to pitch for them. Told immediately of the deal, one Red Sox official said he thought it was a great one for Theo Epstein’s Cubs and that Lackey would thrive in Chicago.

Even when he was bad with the Red Sox, the team never stopped believing in Lackey.

“The year that I was with him, he had a really tough year,” said former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who will lead the Cleveland Indians against Lackey tonight at Wrigley. “For all the pitchers that qualified, I think he might have had the highest ERA (6.41). You can imagine how fun that was trying to take him out of games because he doesn’t ever want to come out. That’s one of the things I respect about him, and there’s a lot of things I respect about him.

“He was going through a really tough year — his elbow didn’t feel good. There were a lot of things that were tough on him that year. But never once did I doubt how good a pitcher he could be when he’s healthy.”

Lackey pitched through elbow problems for as many as three years before finally undergoing Tommy John surgery and sitting out the 2012 season. His teammates praised his competitiveness, but seemed relieved when he finally opted for surgery.

Lackey has a 3.35 ERA since his recovery.

“I knew there was something wrong based by the way he was pitching and the fact that his command wasn’t as good as it normally is,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “You knew there was something wrong with his arm. You just knew it. So I’m certain he’s grown from that.

“The biggest, and I’ve joked about it, the biggest difference between John now and in 2002 is he’s in better shape. He’s really taken care of himself well .?.?. So I think the difficult times (with the Red Sox) definitely reignited his fire. But right now, I think, physically throwing the baseball, he’s as good as he’s ever been.”

The Red Sox got close to their fair share out of Lackey’s right arm, on the field through 2013 and into 2014. When he was traded later in 2014 to the Cardinals, many considered it a coup for the Red Sox at the time, though Allen Craig and Joe Kelly haven’t done much since the deal.

However, it has worked out OK for Lackey.

“This is why I’m still playing at this stage of my career at this age,” he said yesterday. “I’m trying to win championships and trying to be a part of something special.”