Commentary

Lackey excels despite 'personal' issues

Updated: April 8, 2010, 11:26 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- John Lackey's Red Sox debut almost didn't happen Wednesday night.

After the New York Yankees beat Boston 3-1 in 10 innings, Lackey admitted there were some personal issues he's been thinking about the last couple of days.

"Honestly, I had a lot of things on my mind today," Lackey said after having to settle for a no-decision in his first regular-season game with the Sox. "But there was definitely [some adrenaline] and some added pressure because you want to win the series, and being here for the first time, you want to start off with a good impression."

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJohn Lackey made a good first impression on Red Sox fans with six shutout innings against the Yankees.

When pressed further about the "things on my mind," Lackey said they were personal.

The issues were significant enough, however, that according to a club source, the Red Sox gave Lackey the option to stay home to deal with the personal matters and forego his start. But he told the team he wanted to pitch.

Lackey spent part of the afternoon in the clubhouse watching coverage of the Masters and was on the field shagging balls during batting practice, which is very unusual for a starting pitcher. Once the game started, it was a typical Lackey performance. He worked quickly and kept the Yankees off balance, working six scoreless innings, allowing only three hits with two walks and three strikeouts.

"He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes [14-of-22] and he changed speeds and stayed down in the zone. He really pitched well," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I would've liked to let him pitch all night, but it would have been a little irresponsible this early in the season. I thought he was terrific."

Lackey exited with a 1-0 lead but the Sox couldn't hold on as reliever Scott Schoeneweis allowed one run in the seventh inning. New York took the lead in the top of the 10th inning when Curtis Granderson belted a solo homer off Jonathan Papelbon.

"As a starter, your job is to give your team a chance to win. I thought I did that tonight," said Lackey. "After that you want a team win. Getting a win is nice, but that's not a huge goal of mine. You want the team's success more than anything."

Lackey proved in the top of the sixth that he is a good teammate when he plunked Yankees star Derek Jeter to lead off the inning after New York starter Andy Pettitte drilled Kevin Youkilis in the previous inning.

Of course, Lackey took the high road when asked about it.

"You think I'm trying to hit a guy in a one-run game to lead off the inning? I've been around a little bit longer than that," he said.

This being Lackey's first start in a Red Sox uniform at Fenway Park, he was asked all kinds of questions after the game, from what it was like to be a part of the Sox-Yankees rivalry to pitching in Boston in 80-plus degree weather in April.

"I'm from Texas, man, 85 degrees in the fall," he said with a smile. "No, the weather didn't have anything to do with it. The first time out, there's definitely some different juices that get flowing a little bit, a little adrenaline and stuff. Getting to 100 pitches for the first time, I'll definitely be a little sore tomorrow."

The Yankees took two out of three games in this season-opening series, and it was everything Lackey expected.

"Great atmosphere, man," he said. "Even warming up today people were yelling. It's a lot more fun to be on this side, for sure. This is a great place to play when you're playing for the Red Sox.

"All the hype is right," added Lackey. "It was three really good games and two great teams; unfortunately, we came out on the short end tonight. It's going to be a grind and a battle all year."

It was a solid debut for Lackey, particularly considering that it almost didn't happen.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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