The last time John Lackey was the winning pitcher in a World Series-clinching game, he famously declared, “This is a long way from Salt Lake.”
Lackey is even further removed from his days with Salt Lake City’s Triple-A team now, but the Buzz/Stingers/Bees franchise can claim a strong connection to the 2013 champion Boston Red Sox — thanks to Lackey, Mike Napoli and World Series MVP David Ortiz.
Mix in Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler, who’s from Moab, and this is a triumph for baseball in Utah.
And after winning three titles in 10 seasons, the Sox obviously have overcome the longtime curse that once befell St. George native Bruce Hurst. The former Boston pitcher already was voted as the 1986 Series MVP in the late stages of Game 6, only to have the New York Mets take advantage of mistakes by Bill Buckner and others to win that game and go on to claim the championship.
Lackey made sure that Ortiz’s seemingly guaranteed award stayed in his teammate’s possession. He pitched brilliantly in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory in Game 6 against St. Louis, just as he did as a rookie in 2002 for the Los Angeles Angels vs. San Francisco.
Ortiz played parts of three seasons (including all of 1999) for the Buzz, who then were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. He’s the first Series MVP ever to have played for Salt Lake City’s minor-league team.
The only other such honorees with significant Utah ties include former BYU pitcher Jack Morris with Minnesota in 1991 and Frank Robinson with Baltimore in 1966. Robinson played a full season in Ogden as a 17-year-old rookie in 1953 in the Cincinnati Reds system.
Ortiz went 11 for 16 at the plate in the Series, with two home runs, six RBIs, seven runs and eight walks. This past summer, observing the 20th season of Triple-A baseball’s return to Salt Lake City, The Tribune picked Ortiz as the designated hitter on the Buzz/Stingers/Bees all-time team — based partly on what he’s gone on to do in the major leagues, winning three world championships and becoming the career hits leader among DHs.
Lackey was promoted to the Angels in July of the 2002 season after an outstanding performance with the Stingers. He was followed by two other former Salt Lake pitchers, Brendan Donnelly and Francisco Rodriguez, on the mound in that Game 7 victory over the Giants.
Napoli played in 21 games as a catcher for Salt Lake in 2006 on his way to the Angels. In the tradition of Hurst, he nearly became the Series MVP for Texas in 2011. But the Rangers ended up losing to St. Louis in seven games, costing him the award.
Napoli was only 2 for 13 at the plate in the 2013 Series, but he drove in four runs.
The only thing that he could have driven home Utah’s connection to this Red Sox victory even more is if Game 6 had ended with a groundout. That happened for Boston in 2004 when former Salt Lake first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught the final throw of the Series at first base — where Napoli was playing Wednesday.
Then again, considering the controversy that ensued when Mientkiewicz kept that baseball, it’s probably just as well that Matt Carpenter struck out swinging.