With Jon Lester cheering him on, John Lackey takes another crack at Fenway Epstein reflects on historic title runs (1:26)
Cubs president Theo Epstein shares the different perspectives he had when Boston reversed its curse in 2004 and Chicago ended its championship drought in 2016. (1:26)
8:00 AM ET
BOSTON — Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester says he can “enjoy” his return to Boston, considering he doesn’t have to pitch here this weekend. John Lackey can’t relax in the same manner.
He takes the mound against his former team Saturday in what is sure to be an intense atmosphere at Fenway Park. Lackey didn’t know what kind of a response he will receive from the crowd, but Lester is hopeful it’s a good one.
“What some people still don’t understand is he pitched broke for two years,” Lester said. “He grinded his butt off to get out there and pitch, got his butt kicked a lot and finally went and got surgery and came back and was the John Lackey we knew. He has more respected in that clubhouse than anywhere because we all knew what he went through.”
Lackey had ERAs of 4.40 and 6.41 in 2010 and 2011 before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. His return in 2013 ended well, with a 3.52 ERA for Lackey and a World Series victory for the Boston Red Sox.
John Lackey helped Boston to a World Series championship in 2013. Jeff Curry/Getty ImagesLackey’s up-and-down path in Boston came after a seven-year run with the Angels, where he played in relative obscurity compared to the pressure that comes with pitching in Boston. According to Lester, it’s not easy for newcomers. At least Lester was used to the fishbowl having been drafted by the organization.
“What people outside of Boston don’t realize is, yeah, the Patriots are good, the Celtics are good and the Bruins are good, but when it comes down to it, it’s a Red Sox town,” Lester explained. “Everything revolves around the Red Sox. It can be really, really fun or really, really harsh. I think players have to realize how to deal with the ups and downs.
“You can’t tell people — they have to experience it. I feel like the guys that are brought up through the system handle it better than free-agent guys because it is a culture shock. You go in there and it is 162 single-game seasons. Every game is Game 7 of the World Series and that’s how they look at it. It’s awesome because it makes you accountable day in and day out. It’s a good place to teach you accountability. I wouldn’t change anything about it. I enjoyed the hell out of my time there.”
Those are some deeps thoughts by Lester, and when approached earlier in the week to get his take, Lackey — in true Lackey fashion — waved off the line of inquiry.
“I’m actually pitching there — Jon [Lester] can say what he wants,” Lackey said with a laugh.
His words came with a smile, but he also knows firsthand about the other side of pitching in Boston. Criticism toward the pitchers came from all corners in the infamous chicken and beer narrative at the end of the 2011 season. Perhaps winning a championship a couple of years later made it all that much sweeter. When he thinks back to the end of his time with the Red Sox, it’s clear what stands out.
“At the end of the day, we won a World Series,” Lester said.
And then, Lester and Lackey did it again with the Cubs just three seasons later. Lester wouldn’t change a thing about his career, both in Boston and afterward. The memories are good. Lackey, who is 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA, is keeping his emotions to himself, at least until after he pitches. Right now, he’s trying to keep it like any other game.
“I’ve pitched for four teams,” he said with shrug. “Boston is a good team.”
With Jon Lester cheering him on, John Lackey takes another crack at Fenway