The crowd of 36,436 at Fenway Park started chanting his last name in the ninth inning as John Lackey stood on the mound, an out from a complete game.
If Lackey noticed, he didn’t let on. He got the final out and hugged Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Red Sox had a 3-1 victory against the Orioles and a spot in the postseason.
Lackey threw a two-hitter, walked two, and struck out eight. Of his 113 pitches, 82 were strikes. It was Lackey’s first nine-inning complete game since Sept. 10, 2009, when he was with the Angels.
Lackey was the one of the pitchers who struggled in the final weeks of the painful 2011 season, taking the mound every five days despite a torn elbow ligament. Surgery forced him to miss the 2012 season, and Lackey watched helplessly as the Sox finished in last place. He was one of the symbols of everything that had gone so wrong.
“The remake of John Lackey, both physically and getting back on the mound and performing as he’s done all year, mirrors that of this team,” manager John Farrel said. “It’s been a remake.”
At 93-61, the Red Sox have secured no worse than a wild-card berth in the playoffs. With Tampa Bay losing against Texas, the Red Sox need only one victory or one Rays loss to clinch their first American League East title since 2007.
The Sox are saving their champagne celebration until that moment, which could be Friday. Expect that to be raucous with this crew.
Lackey certainly has earned some fun. He was booed savagely in 2011 despite his pitching in pain. He was an easy target for some in the media, too. Teammates swore by him, but those comments were largely ignored.
Now Lackey has a 3.44 ERA through 28 starts with one to go. He’ll come close to 190 innings this season. It’s the best he has pitched since 2007, when he finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting for the Angels. He could well be the Game 2 starter for the Red Sox in the Division Series.
“It’s nice,” he said. “To be a part of going to the playoffs, there was a lot of hard work getting back to this point. To be back here and to be pitching and pitching well again and being healthy. It’s fun.”
• Stephen Drew has a .772 OPS, third among AL shortstops. His 64 RBIs are tied for third. That home run off Chris Tillman was the big hit of the game.
• Jarrod Saltalamacchia has 37 doubles. The franchise record for a catcher is 39 by Carlton Fisk (1978) and Jason Varitek (1999).
• The Sox have as many wins as they did losses last season — and with eight games to go.
• Dustin Pedroia has hit safely in all nine games since he started batting leadoff. He is 13 for 40 (.325) batting first.