With the signing of John Lackey to a 5-year, $82.5 million dollar contract, the Red Sox now boast three bona fide aces at the front-end of their rotation -- a rotation now widely considered one of the best in baseball.
Despite eight seasons with the Angels that saw Lackey accrue 102 wins, appear in an All-Star game, win an American League ERA title, and be named a World Series Champion; it is the final start of his rookie season that defines his career to this point.
On October 27th, 2002, just four days removed from his 24th birthday, John Lackey started the World Series' decisive seventh game against the San Francisco Giants. On only three days rest, Lackey allowed just a single run over five innings, becoming the second pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to win Game 7 of the World Series as a rookie (the other being Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates). The hat that he wore that night is now displayed in the MLB's Hall of Fame.
Lackey has certainly begun to create his legacy during his years in California, but it is his time in Boston that will consummate it.
The Red Sox's previous two World Series titles were predicated by the acquisitions of marquee starting pitchers; namely Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett.
Schilling and Beckett also came to the Red Sox as World Series Champions. In fact, they too were the starting pitchers for their team's title-clinching games. Both pitchers arrived in Boston already having had what most would consider career-defining accolades, however, it has been their time as members of the Red Sox that most will remember them for.
In 2001, Curt Schilling combined with Randy Johnson to form one of the most imposing 1-2 punches in playoff history. Schilling, then 35 years-old, started Game 7 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. The right-hander helped lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first and only World Series title in arguably the greatest baseball game of the decade. Despite winning multiple awards that season, including World Series Co-MVP honors (shared with Johnson), Schilling will always be remembered by what he did in Boston.
The Red Sox completed a trade in November of 2003 that sent four players to Arizona (Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Jorge de la Rosa, and Michael Goss) for Curt Schilling. The newly-acquired pitcher vowed to push the Red Sox past their 86-year title drought, and did so the very next season. Schilling won two World Series Championships in Boston (2004, 2007), and will forever be etched in Red Sox lore for his heroics in what will always be referred to as, "The Bloody Sock Game."
In 2003 Josh Beckett led his team (Florida Marlins) past the Yankees to a World Series Championship. The 23 year-old, like Lackey in 2002, started the series' final game on three days rest. Neither short rest nor the daunting task of pitching a World Series game in Yankee stadium phased Beckett as he twirled a complete game shutout, allowing just five hits over nine brilliant innings. Again, like Schilling, Beckett was named the World Series MVP.
In another blockbuster trade that again cost the Red Sox four minor-leaguers, most notably Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett was brought to Boston on Thanksgiving Day of 2006. In the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, Beckett helped Boston stave off elimination at Jacobs Field by pitching eight innings allowing just one run, striking out eleven, and initiating the team's comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. While Beckett may have introduced the world to his post-season prowess while in Florida, it is his time in Boston that has seen Beckett truly established himself as one of the baseball's most notable "big game pitchers."
John Lackey embodies characteristics seen in both of the aforementioned pitchers. Like Beckett, Lackey is a Texas-native who incurred success in the MLB at a young age, both winning a World Series before turning the age of 25. Similar to Schilling, he comes to Boston following a rival-Yankees championship, and isn't hesitant about expressing his desire to help Boston back to the World Series.
However, the most intriguing aspect shared by the three pitchers may be the unwillingness to shy away from Boston's biggest threat heading into next season, the New York Yankees.
Just last season, in the American League Championship Series' Game 5 against New York, John Lackey created one of the most memorable images of the 2009 playoffs.
As Angels' manager Mike Scioscia approached the mound to remove him from the game, cameras captured the determined Lackey shouting, "This is mine!" A showcase of determination that surely caught the eye of Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox, leading them to offer the free-agent a long-term deal worth over $80 million dollars.
Lackey comes to Boston with a very impressive resume similar to those that accompanied Beckett and Schilling upon their arrivals. And like the those before him, he is in position to cement his legacy by what he accomplishes in a Red Sox uniform.
Despite spending time on the disabled list the past two seasons, Lackey is regarded as one of the game's most durable pitchers. During the span of five seasons prior to 2008, Lackey averaged just under 33 starts and 211 innings pitched. His average win-loss record for a season may be a mediocre 13-9, however, his career ERA is 3.81 and has not surpassed the 4.00 mark since 2004; all while pitching in baseball's most offensive-heavy league.
Lackey also brings that element of post-season success that Beckett and Schilling are known for. Despite winning just three of his seven decisions in the playoffs, his ERA is 3.12 in 78 innings pitched. Lackey started three playoff games in 2009 (one against Boston, two against New York), going 1-1 with a 2.29 ERA over just under 20 IP. That includes 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox.
Aside from last season, Lackey and the Angels had seemingly been Boston's annual stepping stone in getting to the ALCS.
-In 2004, the Red Sox swept aside Lackey and the Angels 3-0 in the ALDS en route to a World Series title.
-2007 featured the exact same result as Boston went on to their second championship in four years.
-The Angels managed to avoid the sweep in 2008, but again fell to the Sox 3-1 in the Divisional Series.
Now that Lackey is a member of the Boston Red Sox, expect different results -- unless you're comparing his transition to those made by Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, that is.