April 13, 2013

On Baseball: Like the Lester of old

Jon Lester keeps showing he's recovered from a poor 2012 season, this time with a solid performance against yet another ace.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - In cozy Fenway Park, where meeting space is sparse, media members were blocked from entering the interview room Saturday for their daily pregame chat with Red Sox Manager John Farrell.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Molina
click image to enlarge

Jacoby Ellsbury crosses the plate with the winning run in the 10th inning Saturday, scoring on Shane Victorino’s infield single to give the Red Sox a 2-1 victory against Tampa Bay. The catcher is Jose Lobaton.

The Associated Press

The room was occupied. Seems the hitters were still there for their pregame meeting. When it comes to facing David Price, your preparation goes into overtime.

The hitters did their job, working counts and getting Price's pitch count up, but the Red Sox also used their ultimate weapon:

Jon Lester.

Billed as the classic duel between opposing aces, the Red Sox-Rays game lived up to the hype.

Lester: seven innings, five hits, one run, no walks, five strikeouts.

Price: six innings, four hits, one run, two walks, eight strikeouts.

They turned it over to the bullpens and the Red Sox finally broke through in the 10th with an unearned run.

Big, big win. Boston is coming to rely on Lester as well as today's starter, Clay Buchholz. Boston is 5-0 in their starts.

Pretty impressive for Lester when you consider he's faced CC Sabathia and last year's Cy Young Award winners, R.A. Dickey and Price.

"Jon threw the ball well. We come to expect that from him," said catcher David Ross.

If Boston can ride its arms -- and Lester got solid backup from three (of four) relievers -- then the Red Sox may be on to something.

Lester and Price have come up through their organizations. They appeared in a game together almost five years ago.

Remember that game on Oct. 19, 2008, in the comfortably artificial conditions of domed Tropicana Field (as opposed to the 44 degrees Saturday at Fenway)?

Lester got the start in that one, too. It was Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Lester retired the first nine batters, and eventually allowed three runs over seven innings, trailing 3-1 when he left.

But the Red Sox had a rally going. Kevin Youkilis walked to load the bases with two outs in the eighth inning. J.D. Drew was coming to bat.

Price, a rookie with 15 innings of major league experience, entered and struck out Drew on four pitches. He pitched a scoreless ninth for the save and the Rays' first appearance in the World Series.

Price's career continued to rise, culminating in a 20-5 record last year and the Cy Young Award.

Lester? He went 19-9 in 2010. His 15-9 season in 2011 was soured by the September collapse, then he tailspinned like everyone else last year (9-14, 4.82).

"We fully expected Jon to get back to the levels he pitched before," said Farrell, Boston's pitching coach from 2007-2010.

"He's healthy. He's got good stuff. There's no reason why he should not get back to that performance level. And he's doing that."

Lester, now with a 1.42 ERA, looked in trouble early Saturday. Over the second and third innings, he allowed four hits in a span of five batters, including a single and Sean Rodriguez's RBI double to begin the third inning. Rodriguez sprinted to third on a wild pitch.

No outs. It was then that Lester, 29 showed the maturity and savvy of a veteran.

"He did a good job of adjusting," Ross said.

Lester began to throw over the top more, getting his fastball lower. And he began mixing in change-ups.

"Had to get the ball down and change speeds," Lester said. "They're obviously a very good fastball-hitting team. Had to just keep grinding it out and think down, down, down."

Lester struck out Evan Longoria, then got a liner to first and a grounder to third. Rodriguez was stranded.

(Continued on page 2)

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