BOSTON — Four years make the heart grow fonder — and the arm grown stronger, apparently.
Jon Lester came out firing Friday in the first playoff game at Fenway Park since 2009. The veteran showed power, precision and poise while leading the Red Sox to a 12-2 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS.
“Obviously, getting to start Game 1 at Fenway Park is pretty exciting,” Lester said. “The adrenaline was going. Our game plan early on was to set the tone, come right after the guys. It felt pretty good, and obviously, the velocity up there showed, so I just tried to carry that over.”
Lester gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings Friday, and it was clear early on that the left-hander was feeding off the moment. Lester dialed it up to 97 mph while striking out the first four hitters he faced. The four K’s to begin the game tied the Red Sox’ postseason record held by Josh Beckett, who struck out the first four batters he faced in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series.
“I think what we’ve seen throughout the course of this year is Jon has ironed out his delivery to where when he’s got added adrenaline or emotion, he’s still able to channel it in the right way and not sacrifice location with his stuff,” manager John Farrell said following Friday’s win. “That first inning was powerful and something that we probably haven’t seen in a couple of year’s time. I know he was more than ready for today’s start.”
Lester wasn’t flawless. He gave up a solo homer to Sean Rodriguez in the second inning, and then surrendered another blast to Ben Zobrist in the fourth inning as the Rays jumped ahead 2-0. But after the Red Sox struck for five runs in the bottom of the fourth, Lester settled down and lasted into the eighth inning, at which point he walked off the mound to a standing ovation.
“Setting aside the two mistakes to [Rodriguez] and Zobrist, Jon was strong,” Farrell said. “Stayed out of the middle of the plate. That’s as powerful stuff as Jon has had for us all year long, and it came at a very good time.”
Lester only gave up one hit besides the two solo homers. He walked three, struck out seven and threw 114 pitches before tipping his cap to the Fenway Faithful upon exiting with two outs in the eighth. It was a job well done for a veteran pitcher who vowed Thursday to “bust his butt” to give Boston what it needed in Game 1.
“I think just being involved in more playoff games at a younger age, you, through experience, learn how to handle these situations,” Lester said. “And a perfect example is today. I knew two runs wasn’t going to beat us. As long as I kept them close enough, our guys were going to figure out [Rays starter] Matt [Moore], and we were able to do that.”
Lester is now 3-3 with a 2.35 ERA in seven career postseason starts. If Boston gets its way, Lester won’t have to wait another four years for win No. 4.