Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes Give Boston Fans Another Reason to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day With Near-Perfect Effort

Jon LesterA lot of Boston fans might wake up Monday morning not remembering Sunday’s Red Sox game, but those hungover St. Patrick’s Day partygoers will be happy to learn that their hometown team was damn near perfect against the Rays.

Jon Lester really was perfect. He didn’t allow a baserunner in six sparkling innings, while once again demonstrating ace-like stuff. He threw 79 pitches (53 strikes) and struck out six while looking every bit as dominant as his stat line indicates.

Lester controlled both sides of the plate with a great deal of efficiency. His command was tremendous, and his cutter — which is as good as you’ll find in baseball when the lefty is on his game– was in top form. Lester mixed up his pitches well, and his ability to change speeds throughout a given at-bat had Rays hitters off-balance throughout the contest.

Sunday’s start marks Lester’s most encouraging work yet, but it’s really just a continuation of what we’ve seen develop all spring. The left-hander seemed to arrive at camp with a chip on his shoulder, and he has been lights out in his five outings. Lester has now allowed just two runs on six hits in 20 innings of work (0.90 ERA), striking out 16 and walking four in the process.

What’s been most impressive about Lester’s stellar spring is the pace with which he’s pitching. Manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves have stressed the importance of getting into a rhythm — even breaking out the stop watch during one of Clay Buchholz‘s bullpen sessions — and the team’s hurlers have really taken the philosophy and run with it. That includes Lester, who has a reputation of working slowly, and the result has been fast games and effective starts.

Lester wasn’t the only cause for celebration on Sunday. The Red Sox also received solid production from Jonny Gomes and Will Middlebrooks, both of whom will absolutely need to fill Boston’s power void if David Ortiz isn’t ready come Opening Day.

Gomes went 3-for-3 with four RBIs, while Middlebrooks went 2-for-3 with a pair of wall-ball doubles. The sluggers batted sixth and seventh in the order, respectively (Mike Napoli batted cleanup and Jarrod Saltalamacchia batted fifth), but the lineup card isn’t etched in stone. Perhaps we’ll see some more shuffling from Farrell before the April 1 opener if these two guys can get hot in the meantime.

So when the St. Patrick’s Day party animals around New England wake up on Monday morning, their hangover at least has a cure. Opening Day will officially be just two weeks away, and more importantly, their Red Sox once again saw reasons for optimism.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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