BOSTON — Shane Victorino and John Lackey exemplify the redemptive nature of the 2013 Red Sox World Series champions and their relationship with Boston baseball fans.
Sox diehards hated it when GM Ben Cherington signed outfielder Victorino this past offseason because he’d come off the worst year of his career— with the Phillies and Dodgers — and critics thought his bat speed had diminished.
Likewise, no fan wanted to see 35-year-old John Lackey ever pitch another game in a Red Sox uniform. Everyone was sick of the righty not living up to his $82.5 million, five-year contract; his antics during the 2011 season, and his sitting out the 2012 season after Tommy John elbow surgery.
Lackey had his worst-ever 6.41 ERA in 2011, frequently showed up his fielders when they made errors and he never took accountability for his poor performance on the mound or his questionable clubhouse behavior that contributed to Boston’s historic 2011 September collapse.
So, yes, Red Sox Nation was more than suspicious about accepting these two players — just like they were more than leery to accept this new-look 2013 Red Sox team after what happened in 2011 and then the 69-win, last-place division finish in 2012.
But as this season progressed, fans grew quite fond of Victorino, Lackey and this entire bunch of bearded wonders. That fondness turned into everlasting love Wednesday night with a 6-1 victory in Game 6 over the St. Louis Cardinals, and becoming the first Red Sox team to clinch the World Series at venerable Fenway Park in 95 years.
How appropriate for it to happen this year — a year that has been so trying for the people in this city following the Boston Marathon bombings in April that killed three people and wounded 260 others.
This team began to win over Boston fan’s hearts when they rallied around the city following that tragedy.
“When the Marathon tragedy happened, they didn’t need to be told anything,” Cherington said. “It’s a group of players. They came together on their own — completely genuine, organic movement and it really drove them through the year. It’s hard to put it into words.”
“Victorino! Victorino! Victorino!” the fans in the right field stands chanted as the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” took his defensive position in right before the start of the fourth inning. It was a response to his three-run double off the left field Green Monster that gave Boston a lead it never gave up.
“Boston Strong,” Victorino responded to fans in the jublication after the game.
Lackey, meanwhile, pitched 62⁄3 innings, allowing just one run even though he gave up nine hits and one walk while striking out five. He became the first pitcher in major league history to start and win a World Series clinching game for two different teams. He also did it in 2002 as a rookie for the Los Angeles Angels.
When manager John Farrell removed Lackey with two outs in the seventh inning, Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” blared over the loud speaker, Fans chanted the pitcher’s name. He tipped his cap, something he hadn’t done in previous post-season games.
It was a dramatic different scene from 2011, when he endured loumouth boos upon being pulled from a game that got away from him. Even he acknowledge the changed attitude.
“It sounded a little different,” he said. “It was nice.”
Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said Lackey’s reserve feelings were rooted in his injuries that he tried to play through in 2011 and finally fixed with Tommy John surgery.
“He was almost treated unfairly because he wasn’t at full strength,” said Lovullo. “So we knew when he was going to be coming in this year, if he could execute and stay healthy, then he was going to have the type of year that he had.”
Red Sox fans also chanted Lackey’s name during the postgame ceremony.
“It’s a situation where he’s come full circle,” Lovullo said. “He deserved that moment to walk off the field, tip his hat and have these fans understand just how special that moment was because of all the hard work he put in to get back to where he was.”
Victorino was a huge part of this team’s winning attitude this year because he’d run through a wall to catch a ball.
“He comes with such a great track record (World Series title with Phillies in 2008) that we knew we were getting something special,” Lovullo said. “But when you get to see him every day, he has a great balance of serious, uniquely funny, uniquely quirky. But the bottom line is that at 7 o’clock every day, he brings every thing he’s got to going out there and moving forward to helping this team win.”