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John Lackey earns cheers by beating Yankees, handling Alex Rodriguez

Boston Red Sox John Lackey pitches in the

Boston Red Sox John Lackey pitches in the first inning of a baseball game against the Yankees in Boston. (Aug. 17, 2013) Credit: AP

BOSTON -- John Lackey, once one of the most reviled hometown athletes in Boston, walked off the mound Saturday to a standing ovation at Fenway Park.

He had just finished stifling the Yankees for 62/3 innings in Boston's 6-1 win. But was it just his pitching that made him the object of so much affection?

Lackey was one of the most outspoken players about the continued presence of Alex Rodriguez on major-league baseball fields -- although he backtracked significantly from his comments after the game.

As A-Rod has continued to play while he appeals his 211-game suspension, some players have questioned why he is being allowed to do so, even though that's the system agreed upon by the players' union and the owners.

Lackey reportedly told The Boston Globe this past week: "I've got a problem with it. You bet I do. How is he still playing? He obviously did something and he's playing. I'm not sure that's right . . . It's pretty evident he's been doing stuff for a lot of years I've been facing him."

With his comments, Lackey joined teammate Jonny Gomes, who told the Boston Herald: "It doesn't make much sense that he's still playing."

But Rodriguez is, and there he was Saturday, going 0-for-3 with a walk and getting booed at every turn by the sellout crowd of 37,517.

After the game, Lackey said his earlier comments were "overblown . . . I had somebody come up to me and ask me, 'Don't you think that it's unfair that he's playing?' And I agreed with him."

Asked what his position on A-Rod playing is now, Lackey said: "That's the system that we agreed upon as a union, so yeah, that's it."

It wasn't that long ago that Lackey was the bane of Boston's existence. The righthander was one of the Red Sox players implicated in the infamous chicken-and-beer scandal at the end of the 2011 season.

Lackey and fellow pitchers Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were accused of eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games while the Red Sox frittered away a playoff spot during an epic September collapse.

Lackey, an expensive free- agent signing, also had a ghastly 6.41 ERA in 2011. After the season, it was announced that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, and he missed all of 2012. But he has been solid this year with an 8-10 record and 3.22 ERA. On Saturday, he allowed six hits, three walks and one run.

There was some sophomoric speculation that he might hit A-Rod with a pitch, but Lackey hit only Chris Stewart with his 103rd and final pitch. After that, he walked off to thunderous applause for a job well done.

Not every Red Sox player has a problem with A-Rod. He left Fenway in a car with David Ortiz after meeting Big Papi in the players' parking lot in view of some booing fans.

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