Hope always springs eternal on Opening Day, and for the second straight year the hopes of a Day 1 win for the Red Sox will ride on the arm of Jon Lester.

On Monday, Manager Bobby Valentine named Lester the starter for the April 5 opener in Detroit, where he will become the first Sox lefty to make back-to-back Opening Day starts since Mel Parnell 60 years ago.

A year ago, Lester took a no- decision in a 9-5 loss to the Rangers in Texas to start the season. It was the first of six straight losses to start the year for the Sox, part of a 2-10 run through the first two weeks of the season.

It was a harbinger of things to come, an early plunge in an extraordinary roller-coaster ride that saw the team climb from last to first in just over a month.

They spent most of the summer atop the AL East, but that was just setting the stage for a harrowing fall in September that saw Boston suffer the biggest collapse in playoff-era history. There have been plenty of changes since that diamond disaster, but one thing has not changed.

Lester is the once and future ace of the staff.

“We experienced just about every bit of what is good in baseball and bad in baseball last year,” Lester said earlier this season. “I think that’s going to make us a better team.”

Lester saw his own peaks and valleys in 2011. He finished 10th in the AL with 15 wins and was eighth in the league averaging 8.55 strikeouts per nine innings. He was selected to the AL All-Star team for the second straight year, taking a 10-4 record (3.31 ERA) into the break.

He was a .500 pitcher after that, coming unglued in September. The Red Sox won only one of Lester’s final six starts when he went 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA.

Lester spent the offseason admitting his mistakes on the field and in the Red Sox clubhouse.

He has vowed to use that experience to make him better in 2012.

His manager thinks he’s the best pitcher on the staff, and will need Lester to pitch like an ace the entire season.

After his last spring training start, Lester said he was still trying to get a feel for his curveball.

The comments came after Friday night’s outing against the Twins, where Lester lasted less than his scheduled five innings of work.

He pitched out of trouble for four innings, limiting Minnesota to two runs while hitting two batters and walking another.

Lester didn’t dwell on his struggles after the start. He also didn’t chalk it up to a meaningless spring training appearance, saying he would use the experience to move forward.

“It’s a good thing to work on, pitching out of jams,” Lester said. “You might as well practice it here. That’s obviously ideal. I don’t want all of those base runners. It was just one of those nights. I wanted to go that extra inning. I’ll hopefully get there next time. Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit smoother than this one.”

The Red Sox are hoping everything will be smoother in 2012. Lester’s only 28 years old and starts the year with a staggering .691 winning percentage.

He didn’t earn the Opening Day start by lottery. He earned it because he has shown resilience to go along with his big-league stuff, a toughness that has allowed him to average more than 16 wins a season over the last four years.

The way Lester handled the offseason, the way he talks about what needs to be done, makes him the perfect role model for the rest of the Red Sox.

It’s also what makes him the perfect man to get the ball when the team gets to work in Detroit and officially – finally – puts 2011 behind them.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.