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John Lackey completes turn of redemption

John Lackey tipped his hat to the crowd after being pulled from the game in the seventh .

Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

John Lackey tipped his hat to the crowd after being pulled from the game in the seventh.

Life is beautiful — and cruel.

If you were Daniel Bard Wednesday night, back home in Mississippi while your former teammates cavorted on the Fenway green as world champions, life was cruel.

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Bard became a Red Sox starter last year to help fill the hole created when John Lackey went into medical exile for Tommy John surgery after his infamous role in the chicken and beer debacle of September 2011.

Bard flamed out, never recovered, was shipped to the Cubs. And while a bin full of his autographed baseballs collected dust in the Red Sox Team Store on Yawkey Way, Lackey was across the street completing one of the greatest redemption sagas in the history of Boston sports.

Two years after Lackey, beset by personal and professional miseries and missteps, cruelly bottomed out, he became the first pitcher in baseball history to start and win the clinching game of a World Series for two franchises.

Life was beautiful again after Lackey led the Sox to their third world championship of the young century. With the poise and tenacity he displayed in clinching Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels against the Giants, the big Texan surrendered only a single run over 6 innings as the Sox defeated the Cardinals, 6-1, to win their first World Series at Fenway Park in 95 years.

“It’s been tough,’’ Lackey said of his personal journey since 2011, while the celebration roiled around him on the field. “There have been some times that weren’t a whole lot of fun, but it was pretty nice tonight.’’

Lackey walked off to a frenzied standing ovation, the crowd chanting his name, after he loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh. Unlike his departures after previous postseason starts at Fenway, he doffed his cap to a fandom that has often been rough on him.

“It sounded a little different,’’ he said, bemused, of the crowd’s love. “It was nice.’’

Lackey clearly has not forgotten the scorn and anger that has been directed at him. Asked to reflect on his redemptive experience, he said, “I’ll be honest with you, I’m so tired of talking about what I went through.’’

Moments earlier, he had been smiling and holding his young daughter, resplendent in her pink tiara earmuffs.

Now, he was telling reporters, “Can we talk about winning this and having a good season one time?’’

When he was asked about the Sox bouncing back from last year’s hellish season, he reminded the reporter, “I didn’t play last year, but I get blamed for that one, too.’’

Manager John Farrell said, “His turnaround mirrors the organization’s, no question . . . Whether it’s the baseball gods or whatever, the fact that it worked out where he was on the mound in this final game is fitting.’’

Proud, confident, and stubborn as ever, Lackey barked at Farrell when the manager went to yank him during the seventh-inning jam. With two outs, Lackey had given up a single to Daniel Descalso, who had taken third on Matt Carpenter’s double.

The next batter, Carlos Beltran, singled, driving in Descalso to cut Boston’s lead to 6-1. Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday was due up when Farrell arrived.

“This is my guy,’’ Lackey insisted on the mound, convincing Farrell to reverse course.

Lackey waged a seven-pitch battle, mostly pounding Holliday with 92-mile-per-hour fastballs before walking him.

He expressed no regrets.

“That was country hardball,’’ Lackey said. “I threw it as hard as I could and see if he could hit it.’’

Lackey had deftly extricated himself from three earlier St. Louis threats. The first arose when Allen Craig singled off the Wall leading off the second, followed by a Yadier Molina single.

In the fourth, Craig singled again with one out and reached second on a Dustin Pedroia error. And in the fifth, Jon Jay reached on an infield single and advanced to third before Lackey stranded him, as he did the runners in the previous innings.

“I made some big pitches,’’ Lackey said. “I was locating pretty much everything pretty well, and it worked out.’’

Lackey indicated he would remember this triumph a bit more fondly than his feat in 2002, when he was a rookie, because of the years it took to win another. But as far as celebrating with the crowd, he seemed more eager to savor the moment with the folks who stood by him when life was cruel.

“It’s fun,’’ he said of the crowd’s enthusiasm, “but I’m going to enjoy celebrating more with my teammates and the people who have been with me.’’

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.
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