BOSTON — It was a win six years in the making.
A lot has happened in Jon Lester‘s career since Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, but the results stayed the same Wednesday. Lester, who earned the victory in Boston’s title-clinching game in Colorado in 2007, pitched the Red Sox to a 1-0 series lead in the 2013 World Series by completely controlling the Cardinals for 7 2/3 shutout innings.
“He did everything he had to do,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team committed three errors in the Red Sox’ 8-1 win in Game 1 on Wednesday. “He kept us off balance and made pitches all night. And so that’s kind of what we expected and we just expected for us to, one, obviously put some runs on the board, but also keep them off. We had a tough time doing the latter.”
Lester immediately had a lead to work with, as the Red Sox scored five runs in the first two innings amid some spotty defense by the Cardinals. The left-hander knew he couldn’t afford to get complacent, though, especially with the Cardinals’ hitters coming up hacking.
“We kind of expected it. We know how aggressive they can be at times,” Lester said. “And late in the game, they tried to slow some things down and take some pitches after that, so we wanted to set the tone and get them swinging. That’s important for my game as far as getting that fastball and cutter involved, and make sure that they’re not able to just lock in and key on certain areas on me.”
Lester gave up just five hits and one walk while striking out eight before exiting to a standing ovation in the eighth inning at Fenway Park. The game was never really in doubt, as the Red Sox’ offense capitalized on its early scoring chances, but Lester successfully walked a tightrope in the fourth and fifth innings.
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the fourth. Jon Jay — who entered the game for Carlos Beltran after Beltran suffered a rib injury while banging into the right field wall — worked a leadoff walk, and Allen Craig and Yadier Molina smacked back-to-back singles with one out to load the bases for David Freese. Freese’s 2011 World Series heroics are well-documented, but the third baseman was unable to produce this time around, as Lester induced a comebacker to start up a 1-2-3, inning-ending double play.
“It was big. Obviously with us scoring some early runs there, 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 get a ground ball. Rossy [David Ross] did a great job of making sure that we got the first one at home and then made a good throw to Nap [Mike Napoli]. So that was obviously a big inning for us and to shut that down and not let any runs score.”
The Cardinals put two more runners into scoring position in the fifth inning. Shane Robinson singled into left field with one out, and Matt Carpenter followed with a bloop hit with two outs. Jonny Gomes dropped the ball following Carpenter’s hit, and that allowed both Robinson and Carpenter to take an extra base. Lester made sure that the gaffe didn’t hurt the Red Sox, though, as the lefty retired Jay on a ground ball to short.
Lester settled into a groove from there. He retired the next eight hitters he faced before John Farrell turned to Junichi Tazawa with two outs in the eighth inning. It was a very impressive performance by a pitcher who continues to thrive when the lights shine bright.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of festivities — the introductions, the flyovers, the national anthems, everything is quadrupled because it’s the World Series,” said Lester, who is now 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts this postseason. “So you know how to handle all those situations. Your warmup time, so forth. So I think we talked about it [Tuesday], as far as every game is a learning experience, and you learn from each game, whether it’s in the World Series or if it’s April 15th, you’ve got to take something from it. And being in that situation in 2007 definitely prepared me for tonight.”
Lester was just a 23-year-old kid looking to carve out a big league career after overcoming cancer when he pitched the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2007. Now, on the cusp of 30, Lester is the top dog in Boston’s rotation, and a pitcher whose legacy within the organization continues to grow with each clutch performance.