BOSTON -- During his year-long rehab from Tommy John surgery, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey was motivated by the image of standing on the mound at Fenway Park during the World Series and leading his team to victory.
The 35-year-old right-hander toed the rubber in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series on Thursday night and pitched well enough to win, but it wasn't meant to be. In a familiar theme of many of his starts in a Sox uniform, Lackey didn't receive much offensive support. Although he left with one out in the seventh holding a 2-1 lead, a pair of fielding miscues cost Boston the game as the St. Louis Cardinals rallied for three runs in the fateful seventh and finished with a 4-2 victory to even the series at one game apiece.
"At this point, it's not about me," Lackey said afterward. "Who really cares who gets the win or loss next to their name? We're trying to win four games, trying to win a ring."
Lackey worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits with 2 walks and 6 strikeouts, and was charged with the loss.
"Lackey was great," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "That's exactly what you want out of your starting pitcher to do to keep you in the ballgame like that. We had that, and unfortunately we let it slip away and we have to bounce back."
Boston manager John Farrell has been consistent with his decisions for the majority of this season, especially in the playoffs. The Sox have relied heavily on their bullpen because it has been trustworthy.
During Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Lackey worked into the sixth inning and still felt strong enough to continue, but Farrell went to his bullpen. Boston's starter was not happy with the decision and showed his displeasure as Farrell walked to the mound. But the move worked, and the Red Sox finished with a 7-4 victory.
The same situation occurred in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, when Lackey worked 6 2/3 innings before getting the hook. Once again, the bullpen -- in particular, lefty reliever Craig Breslow -- produced as the Red Sox finished with a 1-0 victory.
Fast-forward to Game 2 of the World Series. With Boston holding a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning, Lackey was lifted when he reached 95 pitches with one out and two runners on. He wasn't as animated when Farrell came out, but he still felt he could finish the inning.
"I thought he was still sharp," Saltalamacchia said. "I thought he still had good stuff. In the ALDS, it's a situation where a team's coming around for a third time, so we had to make that decision, and the bullpen's been great for us all year. Probably nine times out of 10 you still stick with that decision."
This time, the move didn't work. Breslow wasn't as sharp as he had been previously in the postseason. The reliever's throwing error also cost the Red Sox as the game-winning run crossed the plate to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
"John Lackey threw the ball very well," Farrell said. "The leadoff walk starts to get things going for them. After the base hit to [Jon] Jay, felt like we were in a pretty good situation for a matchup. And then unfortunately the walk and the errant throw, that's the one in looking back, I'm sure Craig would like to have that ball back and hold it with a chance to shut down the inning right there. We give them the run. And then [Carlos] Beltran, which we wanted to hit from the right side of the plate, with a 3-1 pitch, adds an insurance run to it. Uncharacteristic of the way I think we've taken care of the baseball this year. And it contributed to the three runs."
Lackey has allowed more than four runs only once in 15 postseason starts.
Lackey experienced a World Series championship when he was a 24-year-old rookie and won Game 7 of the 2002 Fall Classic for the Angels. When he arrived in Boston via free agency in 2010, the right-hander gritted his teeth and pitched through elbow pain. After a disappointing but gutsy 2011 season that ended with a September implosion by the Red Sox, Lackey became a focal point of much of the negative attention, both on and off the field.
He made a decision to get healthy and prove everyone wrong. He has pitched well all season and was simply nasty on the mound again in Game 2 on Thursday night. But once again, it went for naught.
"He threw the ball well," Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said. "He threw really well. We just wish we could've gotten a win for him right there."
Lackey will likely throw again if this series gets to a Game 6. In the clubhouse after Boston's loss, the players packed their bags for St. Louis.
"They're a good team. You can't take them lightly. They're going to put up a fight. It's not like we were going to win four and sweep 'em," Saltalamacchia said. "We're going to go out [to St. Louis] and they're not going to lay down."