BOSTON — Jon Lester threw garbage Saturday morning at Fenway Park. His cutter was dreadful, and he simply didn’t have a feel for his pitches.
Then, he took the mound.
Lester said after Saturday’s game — in which the left-hander provided one of the more lights-out pitching performances in recent memory — that he actually had an awful bullpen session before going out and completely picking apart the Oakland Athletics for eight shutout innings as the Red Sox earned a 6-3 win.
“He was terrible in the ‘pen. I was worried,” catcher David Ross said after being informed of Lester’s bullpen self-critique. “(But) he locked it in. It’s like hitters; sometimes (when you have) your worst (batting practice), you have your best game. He was focused. From pitch one, he was working the corners. … That’s as dominant a performance as I’ve seen from any pitcher in a long time.”
Lester allowed just one hit and walked two. He recorded a career-high 15 strikeouts, marking the most by a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez struck out 16 versus the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on April 8, 2001.
Only two other major league starters since 2003 — Yu Darvish in 2013 and Brandon Morrow in 2010 — have struck out 15 while allowing one hit or less in an outing. The 15 K’s are the most ever by a left-handed Red Sox pitcher in a regulation nine-inning game.
“The combination of power and command was impressive,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was locked in seemingly from the first pitch of the game. He maintained his stuff throughout (and) threw four pitches for strikes — and three of those on both sides of the plate. He was in command from the start.”
It’s amazing to think Lester had a bad bullpen Saturday given how crisp he was from beginning to end. His fastball command was tremendous, his backdoor cutter set the tempo early and he effectively used his offspeed stuff — particularly late in the game — to keep the A’s off-balance.
“I think the biggest thing early was I was able to establish in — not only on swings, but non-swings and getting called strikes,” Lester said. “That’s huge for my cutter. Then, guys can’t lay off the pitch that’s close in. I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
Lester’s 15-strikeout performance marked the 18th double-digit strikeout game of his career, tying him with Smoky Joe Wood for third place on Boston’s all-time list. Only Martinez (72) and Roger Clemens (68) have had more double-digit strikeout games with the Red Sox.
“Any time you mention those two names, it’s pretty special,” Lester said. “Obviously, it’s not one of those deals where you really try to focus on it or worry about it or anything like that. It just kind of happened today. Like I said, it’s just an honor to be mentioned with those guys’ names. Hopefully, we get another day like this someday.”
Another performance like Saturday’s will be tough to come by, as Lester was downright filthy. But another gem wouldn’t be considered a shocking development within the walls of the Red Sox’s clubhouse.
“He’s the ace of the staff and one of the best lefties in the game,” Ross said. “You can take that how you want. I expect a performance similar to that every time he steps on the mound. That’s how good he is.”
Lester sure is good. But Saturday’s performance went beyond good, great, grand or wonderful.
Lester was special, even if his bullpen was quite the opposite.