When Red Sox starter John Lackey left the dugout alone at 7:38 p.m. to warm up for Game 6 of the World Series Wednesday night, the fans along the first base line at Fenway Park stood and applauded.
Every fan in the old ballpark was cheering by the time Lackey arrived in right field and he smiled, just a little.
Exactly three hours later, when Lackey left the mound in the seventh inning with everlasting glory well in hand, the applause was thunderous.
The redemption of a pitcher and his team is complete. The Red Sox finished their improbable last-to-first journey with a 6-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals before a crowd of 38,447.
Most Valuable Player David Ortiz was walked four times, three intentionally. But Shane Victorino drove in four runs and Stephen Drew homered.
“This was something I won’t forget, probably ever,” Lackey said. “This group of guys, the whole thing has been incredible.”
Ortiz reached base 19 times in 24 plate appearances in the Series and drove in six runs.
“This is for you Boston,” he said when handed the MVP trophy.
Ortiz planted a World Series flag at home plate during a raucous celebration that lasted deep into the early hours of the morning at Fenway.
“I would say because this is a team that we have a lot of players with heart,” Ortiz said. “We probably don’t have the talent that we have in ’07 and ’04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that’s special.”
The Red Sox became the first team since the 1991 Twins to go from last place in their division to a World Series title in the span of a year.
From the ashes of a 69-93 season, the Sox won their eighth championship, this one under first-year manager John Farrell.
“This is a little early,” owner John Henry said. “As the season went on we had more and more of a feeling that this was a special team and they had a special approach. They found ways to win. I don’t remember thinking it was going to end this way until we won 97 games.”
The game ended, appropriately, with closer Koji Uehara getting the final out with a strikeout of Matt Carpenter. He jumped into the arms of catcher David Ross and pointed to the night sky.
The Sox played 178 games this season and won 108.
It was the first World Series won at Fenway Park since 1918 and the bearded bunch that pulled it off celebrated with the fans afterward.
“There is no better place to do this,” Ross said. “This is the best feeling in baseball. I can’t believe I caught the last pitch of the World Series.”
St. Louis starter Michael Wacha, a 22-year-old rookie righthander, had allowed three earned runs over 27 innings in the postseason while striking out 28. That included six innings vs. the Red Sox in Game 2 when he gave up two runs.
Wacha was done after 3⅔ innings this time. He was charged with six runs on five hits, four walks and a hit batter.
The Red Sox broke through against Wacha in the third inning. Jacoby Ellsbury, a pending free agent playing what may have been his last game in a Red Sox uniform, led off with a single. The Cardinals intentionally walked Ortiz with one out.
With two outs Wacha hit Jonny Gomes in the shoulder with a fastball to load the bases.
Victorino, who had missed the two previous games with a lower back strain, got ahead 2-and-0, took a fastball for a strike, then lined a fastball high off the wall in left field for a double.
Three runs scored as Gomes sprinted around the bases and eluded the tag of catcher Yadier Molina. Victorino took third on the throw and pounded his chest when he got there having given his team a 3-0 lead.
The Sox took control of the game in the fourth, scoring three more runs and knocking Wacha out of the game.
Drew led off with a home run into the Red Sox bullpen in right field, a satisfying shot that had him raising his fist as he rounded first base.
Drew had been 4 for 51 before the blast and 1 for 16 in the Series.
“Poetic justice tonight given the struggles of Stephen,” said Farrell, who stuck with his shortstop, never losing faith.
Ellsbury doubled to right field with one out. With two outs and first base open, Wacha intentionally walked Ortiz again.
Lance Lynn, the Game 4 starter, replaced Wacha. Napoli dropped a single into center field to score Ellsbury. Gomes walked. Victorino came through again with an RBI single to left field.
That gave Victorino 12 RBIs in the postseason. Before the double and the single, he had been 0 for 10 in the Series.
Lackey left two runners stranded in the second and two more in the fourth. He took a 6-0 lead into the seventh.
Lackey got two outs before giving up a run. Farrell came out to the mound but left Lackey in after an animated discussion. “First time I won one of those,” Lackey said.
Lackey walked Matt Holliday to load the bases and Farrell came out again. As Lackey left the game, for the first time all season he tipped his cap to a crowd that once booed him mercilessly in 2011.
“I heard a lot of different other ones, so that was nice,” Lackey said. “I absolutely had a blast with this team. We all worked our butts off to get here.”
Lackey scattered nine hits and allowed the one run. He walked one and struck out five.
Lackey became the first pitcher in history to start and win the clinching game of a Series for two different teams. He won Game 7 for the Angels in 2002 as a 24-year-old rookie.
Lackey also is the 11th pitcher to win two games to clinch a Series, joining the likes of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. Lackey had a 2.77 ERA in the postseason and allowed four runs over 14 innings against the Cardinals.
“His turnaround mirrors that of this organization. He’s had such a good year for us,” Farrell said. “I think it’s almost fitting that he’s on the mound to finish it out tonight. I think people have seen the turnaround in him, they’ve seen the turnaround in us.”