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Lackey enjoying early taste of Nation

Lackey enjoying early taste of Nation

BOSTON -- The passion of Red Sox Nation became clear to John Lackey a few weeks before he took his seat at the head table for Thursday night's Awards Dinner for the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Back in mid-December, when Lackey was in town to sign that five-year, $82.5 million deal with his new team, the big righty wanted to sample one of the many fine Italian eateries in Boston's North End. What he got even before having time to digest his meal was an introduction to how things are when you are a key member of the Boston Red Sox.

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"I had some people stand up and clap for me when I was walking out," said Lackey. "That was pretty cool. I've had a lot of 'Welcome to town' and a lot of people just saying 'Good luck.' It's been fun."

Lackey will have his fun now because once he gets into the routine of the season, he is a fierce competitor. How fierce? Think Josh Beckett.

As much as Lackey thrived while pitching in Southern California for the Angels, his competitive fire is probably better suited for Boston, where every game is treated as it is crucially important.

"I hope so," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think that [fit between Lackey and Boston] is kind of a natural. I think he likes the big-game atmosphere. We've seen it from the other side, which hasn't always been good. He competes. He's not afraid. He won't back down."

There will be new challenges for Lackey to face in Boston. For starters, he will be pitching in the American League East, a division loaded with offensive heavyweights.

"It's going to be different, for sure," said Lackey. "Throughout the league, the AL East is recognized as the best division in baseball, for sure. But it's going to bring out the best in me. Any home game over here is going to be like a playoff game -- it's going to be a lot of fun."

There is also the matter of pitching at Fenway Park for half his starts. That might have been a problem a couple of years ago, when Lackey seemed to struggle in just about every road start against Boston. But it all changed the night of July 29, 2008, when he took a no-hitter into the ninth against Boston, only to have it broken up by Dustin Pedroia.

Did the near no-no boost his confidence at Fenway?

"I've just made better pitches," Lackey said. "If you make good pitches, you're going to be fine anywhere. I'm not going to be successful every time out there, but the effort will be there every time, I promise you that."

While Lackey clearly pitched in some good rotations with the Angels, this will probably be the best he's been a part of. Jon Lester and Beckett are both ace-caliber pitchers, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the emerging Clay Buchholz and veteran Tim Wakefield are all quality pitchers themselves.

"I would've worked hard regardless of who's here -- but when you have other good starting pitchers in your rotation, there can be a friendly, competitive thing going on in a rotation that can do nothing but improve you and make you better," said Lackey.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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