The pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park will be Jon Lester’s center stage Wednesday night. It’s where he will succeed or fail.
He is the best starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He has been given the distinction of starting Game 1 of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Two of America’s oldest professional baseball teams are matched against each other.
The two teams met in 2004 in that incomparable week that gave Red Sox fans new heroes and ended 86 years of frustration of not winning the big prize.
Now, another series begins (weather permitting) and millions will watch and judge a pitching performance that will help define a career. Will Lester and his teammates play to the moment?
You don’t know. That’s why you’ll take time to see for yourself.
No one player in baseball is bigger or more important than the pitcher. Enter Lester, as it all begins in the chill of late October in Boston. At 29, he is no longer the young minor league pitcher who came off the mound at Hadlock Field in Portland hearing the ovation for another victory.
He let himself be a kid again when he sat in the seats behind home plate at Fenway Park during the 2004 American League Championship Series. He was not yet a major leaguer that year.
Born in Tacoma, Wash., and raised near Seattle, he marveled at how being a fan at Fenway was unlike any other experience. Certainly the Seattle Mariners’ fans weren’t debating how to pitch opposing sluggers.
“That’s what the fans around me at Fenway were doing when Hideki Matsui (of the New York Yankees) was hitting,” Lester told me months afterward, still in wonderment. “There’s nothing like Red Sox fans.”
His diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer, drew an outpouring of compassion from inside the Red Sox clubhouse and out. That’s why the cheers were so loud in Portland when he walked in from the bullpen to start a game at Hadlock Field during his comeback in 2007.
And why that sound got so much louder after manager Terry Francona gave Lester the ball to start Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies. Lester didn’t allow a run in the nearly six innings he worked.
He got the win. The Red Sox swept the Rockies, winning four straight games for their second World Series victory in four seasons.
Lester went from favorite son to prodigal son in September 2011. He was an acolyte to Josh Beckett, who left the Red Sox dugout early during games in which he wasn’t pitching, with Lester in tow. Many people choked on the apparent disrespect for the game and teammates.
Lester hurt Francona, who had been another father to the cancer patient turned cancer survivor. Lester hurt many who cheered his recovery.
That’s one more reason you’ll watch Game 1 of the World Series. It’s not only about the hit-and-runs, double plays or grand slams. It’s more about life and reality than “Survivor” or “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” once you get past the statistics and realize there’s flesh and blood and a personality beneath the uniform and behind the game face.
The World Series and the Red Sox gave baseball the memory of Josh Beckett striking out the first four batters he faced in Boston’s 13-1 victory over the Rockies in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series.
Curt Schilling, in the twilight of his great career, held the Rockies to one run through a little more than five innings in Game 2. Jonathan Papelbon helped preserve the one-run victory by picking Rockies’ star Matt Holliday off first base in the eighth inning.
In 2004 against the Cardinals, Schilling went to the mound for Game 2, one day after taking four stitches to sew up a tendon sheath on his right ankle. The bloody sock had happened in the American League Championship Series.
Pedro Martinez closed his great career with the Red Sox by winning Game 3. Derek Lowe finished his Red Sox career by winning Game 4, which ended the 86-year drought between Red Sox World Series victories.
Big moments on big stages. Now it’s Lester’s turn. He will try to meet the expectations the Red Sox have for him, their Ace.
He will either rise to the occasion or shrink from the moment. You won’t need a degree in Baseball Science to understand the difference.
You will watch because there is no script. Save for 1919 and the so-called Black Sox, there never was.
It’s the World Series and it begins now. Lester will be ready.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: