With their tickets to October signed, sealed and delivered, the Sox could lay low and simply wait for the postseason. Why worry about the fourth-place Cleveland Indians when the Angels were lying in wait for next week? This game meant nothing.
Try telling that to Jon Lester.
For Lester, this game was an opportunity to prove he was ready for another run at the World Series. The events of the past week have shaken up the Red Sox' hopes of a formidable postseason rotation, and Lester took the mound Thursday night to prove that all was well in Boston. It now appears that he's done just that.
If anyone doubted Lester's ability to be a playoff ace this fall, he shut them up in a hurry. The lefty took a perfect game into the fourth inning against the Tribe, faced the minimum through 5 1/3 and left in the seventh inning with a two-hit shutout intact. He struck out seven Indians, walked just one and threw 52-of-84 pitches for strikes. Those are the kind of numbers the Sox want to see in the postseason.
Lester's start on Thursday night proved that he is ready to be a legitimate No. 1 starter for a World Series contender. And given the health issues (and even when healthy, general inconsistency) from Josh Beckett after the All-Star break, it now appears that he should get that chance.
Beckett is a fine pitcher. He carried the Red Sox to the World Series in 2007 — ask anyone, and they'll tell you he was the MVP of that entire postseason. Boston will never forget the way he's contributed on the game's biggest stage. But for now, the righty will have to settle for being a very good No. 2 on a very good team. This is Lester's chance to shine, and Thursday, he proved it.
Since the All-Star break, Lester's ERA is 2.82. He's developed his fastball and his secondary stuff to the point where he's now the single most intimidating lefty in the game. He's blowing hitters away like never before — and if Boston has learned anything from the likes of Beckett, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, it's that power pitching is everything in October. Jon Lester may be just 25 years of age, but he has everything the Red Sox need from an October ace.
Going into this final series, the only question was whether Lester would be healthy enough. But watching him tonight, you saw absolutely no indication that this was a guy six days removed from taking a hard line drive to the kneecap. All you saw was an ace determined to pitch his team into October.
Lester now has nothing left to prove. All he has to do is go out and win.
The Sox have an impressive rotation lined up and ready for October. Beckett, who is working to recover from his recent back spasms, will be back in action this weekend and ready to prove himself again. Clay Buchholz, who was in the minors three months ago, has just come off of an eight-start unbeaten streak. And even Daisuke Matsuzaka — yes, that Daisuke Matsuzaka — has been brilliant in three starts since returning to the major leagues.
The Sox' arms are lined up and ready to go. But most importantly, it all starts with Lester. And on Thursday night, he proved it once and for all.
On Thursday, you saw Jon Lester shut down the Indians. Next time he takes the mound, he'll have bigger fish to fry.
Bring on the Angels. The Red Sox' playoff ace is ready.