As he walked off the mound last night, having tossed 6-2/3 strong innings, John Lackey got a standing ovation from a jam-packed crowd at Fenway Park.

And this time, he returned the favor by tipping his cap.

"It was nice," Lackey said. "It was my appreciation back to them. Thanks for understanding what I've gone through, I guess."

Lackey has been through a lot -- most of it miserable -- since he signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Red Sox. There was the underwhelming 2010 season, in which he went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. And there was the nightmarish 2011, when he pitched with a shredded ligament in his elbow and posted a 6.41 ERA, then was among the pitchers who drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. He missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, and most Red Sox fans wouldn't have complained if they had never seen him again.

But just as the Red Sox gained redemption with a worst-to-first season and an unexpected World Series championship, Lackey did the same. He posted a 3.52 ERA in 29 regular-season starts, then a 2.77 ERA in five postseason appearances (four starts), and became the first pitcher ever to win two World Series-clinching games for two different teams (as a rookie, he won Game 7 for the 2002 Anaheim Angels).

And so, the 38,447 souls lucky enough to get a ticket last night at Fenway Park saluted him by standing and cheering and chanting his name -- "La-ckey! La-ckey!"

“It’s been tough," Lackey said. "There were a lot of times that weren’t a whole lot of fun. But this was awesome. The guys in the dugout were fired up. the atmosphere and the environment here tonight was unbelievable from the start, from when I went out to the bullpen to when the game started. It was really special to be a part of."