BOSTON — Jon Lester’s start against the Blue Jays on Friday was perfect for the Red Sox.
The one-hit, complete-game shutout wasn’t perfect in the literal sense, thanks to Maicer Izturis’ two-out double in the sixth inning. But everything else can be considered flawless because it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the Sox.
Lester went up against an aggressive Blue Jays lineup and retired the first 17 batters he faced en route to one heck of a performance. He consistently kept the ball down, showed good fastball command and used a nasty changeup to his advantage. The solid effort was even more important on a night in which the Red Sox struggled to cash in on early scoring chances.
“Through the first six, seven innings, we needed every bit of Jon Lester as good as he was,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We had plenty of opportunities [and] finally broke through in the seventh inning to give him some breathing room.”
Lester pitched with a one-run cushion for much of the game. The Red Sox left nine men on base and finished just 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, so there was little room for error. Lester was more than up to the challenge, though, as he consistently kept Toronto’s offense in check despite Boston’s frustrating lack of run production.
Lester’s pitching line is something to drool over. While he recorded just five strikeouts — a season low and the fewest K’s he’s ever recorded in a nine-inning complete game — Lester benefited from 12 ground-ball outs, something he credits to keeping the ball down in the zone, and faced just 28 batters while throwing 79 of his 118 pitches for strikes. The lefty insists shutting down a powerful Toronto lineup wasn’t easy, though, and that’s what he takes pride in most.
“That’s the nice part. We had to grind through some stuff,” Lester said. “You have probably about five starts a year where you can just throw your hat and glove out there and it is what it is, you get a ‘W.’ The rest of them you’ve got to kind of grind through and there’s five of them you wish you never had. I think today classifies as a little bit of a grinder for me.”
Lester can call Friday’s start whatever he wants, but perhaps “clutch” is the proper adjective. The Red Sox entered Friday’s contest having lost three in a row and six of their last seven, so they desperately needed Lester to pitch like an ace in order to ensure things didn’t unravel any further. Mission accomplished.
Friday’s performance might not produce the fanfare of Lester’s 2008 no-hitter, but if you ask the veteran left-hander, he’ll tell you he’s a far more developed pitcher now than he was on Aug. 19, 2008.
“I think it’s complete opposites,” Lester said when asked to compare Friday’s one-hit performance to his ’08 no-no. “I feel like back then I was such a thrower, not really a pitcher. I think the best way to put it is effectively wild for my no-hitter. [I’d] try to go down and away, it’d go up and in [and] they’d hit a fly ball somewhere. Not really understanding what was going on. Just throwing what [Jason Varitek] called and see what happens. Now obviously going through this a couple times, I’m a little bit mature and understanding what I’m trying to do. I feel like I pitch a lot more than I throw, so I think they’re apples and oranges comparison.”
As Lester put it, the stars weren’t aligned for a perfect game or a no-hitter on Friday. Still, astronomy was clearly on his side, and the Red Sox got exactly what they needed.