October 4, 2013

Kevin Thomas: Sox need their lefty to be right

BOSTON - Not that anything has come easy to Jon Lester, but 2007 finished as smoothly as he could have hoped.

Jon Lester
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Jon Lester hasn’t had a lot of postseason success against the Tampa Bay Rays, but that was then and this is now.

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Two years removed from his Portland Sea Dogs days -- and a year after his cancer scare -- Lester made his first-ever postseason start in 2007.

Just happened to be Game 4 of the World Series against Colorado.

Lester got the win and a ring.

Easy peasy.

The encores have featured a few bumps.

Since 2007, Lester has a 1-3 postseason record, including two losses to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 American League Championship Series. Then came a loss in the 2009 divisional series against the Angels and three playoff-free years in Boston.

"You don't take anything for granted," Lester said. "Makes you appreciate this."

This is 2013 and Lester gets another chance.

And who does he oppose in his first playoff start in four years?

The Rays.

"Obviously they're playing pretty good baseball right now," Lester said. "Hopefully I give our team a good position to succeed."

To do that, Lester has to dominate. Pretty much every Red Sox pitcher will be asked to do that because the formidable Rays rotation isn't expected to yield much.

The Rays will throw lefty Matt Moore on Friday.

"I'll take our lefty," said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes.

Lester's career is impressive: 100-56 record, 3.75 ERA.

The highlight is that 2007 World Series win. The lowlights are the 2008 ALCS as well as the past two seasons.

When the Red Sox collapsed in 2011, Lester contributed with a 1-3 record in September.

And in last year's 89-loss season, Lester was only 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA.

"Last year was just horrendous all the way around," said Lester.

When Boston isn't in the playoffs, Lester usually watches on TV. But he was so disgusted with 2012, "I didn't watch a game. Turned it off. Tried to get my brain on track."

Lester arrived in spring training hopeful because of a few adjustments with his mechanics -- a renewed delivery of coming more over the top and keeping his pitches down. He started the season 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA through mid-May.

Then came the slump -- 2-6 (6.27) over the next two months.

If there was fear Lester was regressing, he rebounded after an extended rest during the All-Star break, going 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA since.

"He's done a great job of righting his own ship," Manager John Farrell said. "He finished this year extremely strong, powerful, with good performance."

Lester beat the Rays on July 23, allowing two runs over 61/3 innings -- homers by Evan Longoria and Wil Myers -- in a 6-2 win. Tampa Bay started Roberto Hernandez, who isn't a playoff starter.

Lester knows he needs to be concerned with the Rays, a supposed anemic offensive team that comes up with big hits.

"With a right-handed lineup, you have to be down in the zone," Lester said.

Longoria only has two hits against Lester this year, both home runs. Desmond Jennings is 6 for 13 against Lester with a home run.

The margin for error is slim. In Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS against the Rays, Lester allowed only six hits and three runs over seven innings. Tampa Bay won, 3-1.

Lester will have to be fine Friday. His playoff record is hot and cold but the Red Sox like their lefty.

"We're looking at him to lead the way here in October," Farrell said.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:


Twitter: @ClearTheBases


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