On Aug. 2, Jon Lester was 10-6 with a 4.52 ERA, but trending downward as after starting the season 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA, he went 4-6 over his next 14 starts and his ERA skyrocketed to 4.52. There was even some talk at the time of Lester not even being in the starting playoff rotation.
Being the ace of the Red Sox staff, the 29-year-old was not going to let that happen as he closed the season strong, riding the momentum into the postseason as Boston's No. 1 starter and then in Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park as he led the Red Sox to an 8-1 win over the Cardinals.
Lester went tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings, scattering five hits, striking out eight, walking just one and throwing 112 pitches before walking off the field to a tremendous standing ovation from the 38,345 fans.
"Lester, wow, what a stud,” catcher David Ross said. “He shut those guys down. He got the breaking ball in early when they came out swinging the bats and he did a great job mixing his curve ball in early on and hitting his spots.”
He was able to pitch himself out of two jams, one in the fourth and one in the fifth. In the fourth the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out, but Lester was able to force a 1-2-3 double play from former World Series MVP David Freese. Then, in the fifth with two outs and following a Jonny Gomes error the Cardinals had first and third, but Lester got Jon Jay to ground out to end the threat and keep the visitors off the scoreboard. [embedgallery id=241641]
“Yeah, it was big. Obviously with us scoring some early runs there, I just wanted to, especially in the middle innings, get some shutdown innings and get the guys back in the dugout,” Lester said. “That one got a little away from me, but was fortunate enough to get a pitch down to Freese there and a ground ball. [Ross] did a great job of making sure that we got that first one at home and then made a good throw to [Mike Napoli].”
The veteran left-hander seems to get better as the games matter most as he is currently on a streak of allowing three runs or less in 14 of his last 15 starts, including in all four of his postseason starts. Lester has gone into these playoff starts knowing he would be facing the opposition’s best, but he hasn’t backed done one bit, going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA this postseason.
“It’s tough to be a number one for the sake that you have to be that good and then to sum that up there’s a really good chance you’re going against their number one,” Gomes said. “There’s not a lot of margin for error, so I mean he toes that rubber like a true champ. He’s a beast out there.”
With his performance, both this season and in 2007, Lester is putting himself in elite company. He now has five career postseason wins, the most ever by a Red Sox left-hander and is now tied with Josh Beckett for third-most overall in club history behind Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. His 2.07 postseason ERA is the fourth-lowest by a Red Sox pitcher with at least 30 innings behind Babe Ruth, Ernie Shore and Bill Dinneen.
“I guess you can’t get used to it, but that’s flow of traffic with that guy,” Gomes said. “That guy is battle tested on the field and off the field and I mean that guy is climbing the ranks as top left-handers in the game, top left-handers the Sox have ever had then his postseason numbers.”
Even with his rough stretch in the middle of the season, his teammates never lost faith as they all knew the type of bulldog attitude he has and his ability to rise to the occasion when things matter most, which is why Wednesday night’s performance didn’t come as a surprise to any.
“He impresses me every time out, literally,” Ross said. I’m not trying toot his horn -- this is consistent with how he’s pitched for us nine time out of 10 this year.”
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84.