Jon Lester’s value continues to rise with each successful start.
Lester was brilliant for eight innings Thursday as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago White Sox 3-1 at U.S. Cellular Field. The 30-year-old left-hander has given the Red Sox four consecutive strong outings to begin the season, adding to his resume as Boston’s clear-cut staff leader.
“He’s our ace of the staff. We expect good things out of him,” catcher David Ross said after Thursday’s win. “Two big, strong lefties going at it tonight. (White Sox starter Chris Sale) was really good. (It was) a battle of attrition. These guys battled, battled, battled, battled and we came up with a couple of hits, guys scrapped (and) we got some walks. It’s tough, man. Two good pitchers going at it.”
It’s long been debated whether Lester fits the mold of a true “ace,” and a four-start stretch isn’t going to settle the argument. But if the term “ace” refers to a pitcher who trades punches with the opponent’s best while giving his team a chance to win each time he takes the mound, it’s hard to find a better description for Lester this season.
Lester has faced Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, CC Sabathia and Sale. His record sits at 2-2 — the Red Sox’s offense has struggled to produce runs — but he’s been in total control each start, including Thursday’s, in which he gave up just one run on seven hits while facing Sale.
“He was very good,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday. “Three pitches for strikes. He was down in the strike zone. He established an outstanding rhythm right from the start. As well as Sale was pitching (for Chicago), we needed everything Jon gave us tonight.”
Lester didn’t allow a baserunner until the sixth inning Thursday. He struck out nine and didn’t walk anyone while throwing 112 pitches (75 strikes). Lester capped his impressive outing with a big strikeout in the eighth inning, and the Red Sox pushed across two runs in the ninth against the White Sox’s bullpen to earn their second straight win.
“We knew this was going to be a very good matchup coming in and likely to be a low scoring game, as well as Sale has pitched (and) as well as Jon has pitched for us in this season,” Farrell said. “Very good game all the way around. Very well-executed on both sides, and it’s good to finish out the road trip with a win.”
Sale surrendered just one hit — a home run to Xander Bogaerts — in his seven innings for Chicago, but the 25-year-old found himself lodged in a battle with one of baseball’s more seasoned southpaws. Lester matched the White Sox ace pitch for pitch, inherently adding to the leverage he’ll have at the bargaining table when he resumes negotiating his next contract with the Red Sox.
“It’s cool. It’s fun. (It was a) heavyweight bout tonight,” Lester said. ” … If you don’t like that pitching, then you don’t like baseball. That was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Lester’s season has been fun so far. It will become even more enjoyable for the two-time All-Star if his current success continues.