Friday, March 7, 2014
Jon Lester arrived in Portland in 2005, a year removed from being part of The Trade that never happened.
Lester was supposed to be shipped to Texas before the 2004 season, along with Manny Ramirez, for one Alex Rodriguez.
A year later, Lester was reaching un-touchable status - a prospect the Red Sox would not relinquish.
Now here is a trivia question for you. The 2005 Portland Sea Dogs staff was loaded with prospects. Can you name the five pitchers from that staff to reach the majors before Lester?
Lester stayed in Portland for the whole 2005 season, leading to the Sea Dogs to the Eastern League championship series, and being named the league's Pitcher of the Year.
He began 2006 in Pawtucket but was summoned to Boston on June 10 for his debut, against the Rangers.
Here was the Press Herald story about that debut (the answer to the trivia question is at the bottom of the story):
BOSTON - With the bases loaded and two outs, Jon Lester delivered a 73 mph curveball to Mark Teixeira. Teixeira flailed at it and missed.
Lester pumped his fist. He had escaped.
"I'm an emotional pitcher, " Lester said. "If I pitch out of a jam like that, I'm going to show emotion."
That moment in the second inning would be the highlight of Lester's 4 1/3-inning stint Saturday night in his major-league debut.
At this time last year, Lester was the No. 2 pitcher on the Portland Sea Dogs' staff - behind Jonathan Papelbon, now Boston's closer. On Saturday, Lester showed flashes of why he is the Red Sox No. 1 prospect and could be ready to join the rotation.
Lester struggled with his command, throwing 102 pitches (60 for strikes) and walking four walks. But he also showed his stuff with four strikeouts, and his moxie in escaping that second-inning jam. He gave up five hits and three runs, all earned.
"Now he's just going to have to get comfortable and get in a routine and attack the strike zone with his good stuff, " Boston Manager Terry Francona said. "I thought he showed some of the things that we've heard about."
Lester, 22, also showed patience. He arrived at Fenway at 9:45 a.m., with the start scheduled for 1:20 p.m. But Lester didn't throw his first pitch until 6:12 p.m. - a rain delay of almost 5 hours that prompted Red Sox management to offer free hot dogs to the fans who stuck around.
In addition to the free franks, the Fenway fans got a peak at the future.
And the future is now. This start was not a quickie call-up. Lester may be here for a while.
"He will start his next game (with Boston), " Francona said.
David Pauley, the Sea Dogs' pitcher called up to Boston on May 31, is still here. He will make his third spot start today, in the second game of a doubleheader.
Pauley is expected to eventually return to the minors, probably to Triple-A Pawtucket.
But Lester, with David Wells shelved for the foreseeable future, will stay.
Before the season, the Red Sox figured they would call up Lester at some point. That is why they limited his pitch count in April.
It's June and Boston needs him. Red Sox fans know it.
When Francona came out to get Lester with one out and two on in the fifth inning, the crowd stood and cheered. Francona patted Lester on the back, as did catcher Jason Varitek.
The crowd roared as if Lester were leaving in the ninth inning, not the fifth. He tipped his cap and soon was shaking the hand of every player in the dugout.
Lester said the biggest adjustment was "just how loud it got here. (But) I calmed myself down and started pitching a little better."
Lester was one pitch away from a scoreless first inning. But with two outs, he gave up a two-run double to Mark DeRosa on a full-count fastball.
In the second inning, two walks and an error loaded the bases with two outs. Lester, who relied heavily on fastballs and cut fastballs, got Teixeira on the curve, his third strikeout of the inning.
In the fourth, a bloop double, sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly scored another Texas run. Three batters into the fifth and Lester was done.
"I was just happy to get the first one under my belt, " Lester said. "I'm not satisfied with the four walks and, obviously, I threw a lot of pitches for four innings."
Lester became the seventh member of the 2005 Sea Dogs team to reach the majors, joining Papelbon, Pauley, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, Cla Meredith and Hanley Ramirez.
It is an impressive class. On Saturday, Lester became the latest to graduate to the majors. It might not have been a graduation with honors, but it certainly was with promise.
Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.
Follow his thoughts on the Boston Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs on Clearing the Bases
Follow his thoughts on the Boston Celtics and Maine Red Claws on Holding Court
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