The Red Sox’ 2010 season has played out as if it were a process of elimination. Gone, for now, is the Opening Day starter, the team’s leader in wins, the 2008 American League MVP, the best base stealer in franchise history and, most recently, starting catcher Victor Martinez.
Others have come and gone due to various injuries and even more come and go on a daily basis, depending on whether whatever is nagging them is, well, nagging them that day.
This leaves the burden on the shoulders of those who remain, the few still standing, the constants. Perhaps no player has more of a burden right now than Jon Lester, the undeniable leader of the staff as long as Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett remain sidelined and John Lackey remains hittable.
Maybe that’s not such a bad fate.
To put it plainly, there are worse guys the Sox can lean on than Lester, who continued his run of dominance with a complete game win in San Francisco on Sunday, capping the team’s injury-marred six-game road trip that had all the ups and downs and bumps and bruises of an ER season finale.
Steps from San Francisco Bay, Lester’s latest outing calmed the waters, even on a day he lost batterymate Martinez to a fractured left thumb.
"He did everything well," said Sox manager Terry Francona, who certainly appreciated the effort in a series that saw Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Martinez go down with injuries. "He didn’t throw more than 17 pitches in an inning, the whole way, from start to finish. He was economical. He threw every pitch that he has for strikes. He worked ahead with good stuff."
‘Good’ may not do any justice to Lester. He was downright great, allowing only the first batter he faced to score and finishing his sixth complete game in only 103 pitches, 76 of which were strikes.
Even on a day he suffered the latest Red Sox injury, Martinez was able to marvel at the big lefty.
"As soon as I saw him warming up in the bullpen I knew that he was on his game," Martinez said. "Man, he had everything. His command, he was able to do whatever he wanted with all of his pitches."
It helps when you don’t need to throw too many.
Lester needed just nine pitches to get through the seventh, seven in the eighth and only six pitches to set down the Giants in the ninth. It was a get-on-my-back moment from a 240-pounder more than capable of shouldering the load.
The timing of Lester’s effort showed was another indication of just how ready he is to assume a more advanced leadership role. In addition to the injuries, Boston had a very limited bullpen; seven relievers were used Saturday when Buchholz lasted just one inning before getting hurt.
The ever-humble Lester took the task in stride.
"I was just trying to go out and pitch and hopefully get into the seventh or eighth inning and give them a break and I was able to finish it," he said after improving to 9-3 with a 2.86 ERA and improving the best winning percentage in major league history among hurlers with at least 50 decisions (51-19, .729).
The excellence of Sunday’s outing was amplified by the fact that Lester had to throw to two catchers. Martinez was replaced by Jason Varitek after three innings, forcing the Sox’ captain into a situation ice cold.
"Vic did a great job when he was in there and Tek had a hard job of coming in and not really getting the feel of what I had today and he called a great game," Lester said.
When the stuff is as good, or great, as it was for Lester on Sunday, such rushed moves are a non-issue. It also helps when your pitcher is helping himself out with the bat.
Lester, who entered his matchup with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum 0-for-13 in his major league career, clocked a long sacrifice fly almost to the track in right-center field in the second inning. It was Lester’s first major league RBI and snapped a 1-1 tie, making it the eventual game-winning run.
On a day when the Sox had to wonder what else could happen, who would be the next to go down, when would the injuries become too much to overcome, the man in the middle was a rock. He may have to be for some time now.
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