But this was Jon Lester on the mound — Jon Lester, who entered Saturday’s game with an 11-0 record against Baltimore. Jon Lester, who hadn’t allowed a run in 12 consecutive innings against the Orioles. Jon Lester, whose 9-1 record and 1.88 ERA since April 23 lands him in prime position to head to his first career All-Star Game.
Of course, Lester (10-3) righted the ship after a rocky first inning. After allowing a leadoff single to Corey Patterson and battling through several lengthy at-bats against the heart of the Baltimore order, all it took was one well-timed double-play to help the powerful lefty escape the frame and get into a groove that eventually led to his 10th win of 2010.
Like it has done so many times before, the offense picked up the starter in the bottom of the frame, giving new life to the game by putting a few runs on the scoreboard. Marco Scutaro led off with a single, David Ortiz walked, and then Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew and Daniel Nava all doubled to put a four-spot on Jeremy Guthrie (3-10) by the time Lester had to take the mound again.
That was all it took for the lefty to enter cruise control.
"I just got in a better rhythm,” Lester said after the game. “I made some good pitches that inning that got hit. … I made a pitch when I had to, the guys did a good job of turning the double play — Youk made a great play at first, staying on the bag there — that's a big spot for us. Obviously, the guys came out and scored four runs, and that obviously helps."
The victory ties Clay Buchholz for the team lead and extends Lester’s career record against Baltimore to 12-0, the longest current winning streak by any active pitcher against any team.
But that doesn’t matter — not to Lester. To him, the Orioles are just any other team.
"We face these guys so much — it just so happens that I've gotten a lot of turns against them,” Lester said. “It's the same mindset as any other team. I try to go out there and compete, do well, give my team a chance to win. The majority of the time, guys go out there and swing the bat well and give me a cushion. Like I've always said, that eases your mind and makes pitching a bit easier."
After Saturday’s 9-3 win over Baltimore, the Red Sox remain just a half-game out of first place in the AL East, despite dealing with an array of injuries that have dominated headlines over the past week.
For Lester, those injuries are nothing to be afraid of. They represent just another challenge, and as of late, that challenge has been met with a vengeance by the guys who can still play.
"If there's any way that the guys that are healthy can keep us afloat until these guys get back and give us a little boost, then that's all we need,” Lester said. “Obviously, it's only going to get better. I don't think it can get any worse than it has already — knock on wood. … It's fun to see — obviously you don't want to see those guys down — but it's fun to see the guys step in and do well."
Almost exactly two months ago, the 11-14 Red Sox suffered a sweep at the hands of the lowly Orioles. Now, after taking the first two games in this series against the Birds, they find themselves with the second-best record in baseball.
How did Boston complete the turnaround? By living by the same philosophy it has preached since Day 1.
“Two months ago, the healthiest way to play was to take care of what you can take care of, which was tonight[‘s game],” said manager Terry Francona. “I think we’ve always done it, and we'll always, hopefully, continue to do it. Play tomorrow — that's the best way to do it."
Lester’s season didn’t begin with rainbows and sunflowers, but just like the rest of the team, he kept pressing on, and now he’s in a position to earn another career milestone. On Sunday at noon, Lester will know whether his efforts this season — efforts that have nearly matched those of David Price and Felix Hernandez — will be good enough for his first-ever appearance in the Summer Classic.
Lester, however, isn’t expecting much. He could easily be named the American League’s starter; he could just as easily miss out on the action altogether.
“It'd be awesome,” he said of making the team. “It'd be exciting, it'd be a lot of fun, but I don't really know what to tell you. Until that bridge comes, I don't real know what to say about it. It'd be an honor, like I've said before, but the biggest thing is — it sounds bad, but the biggest thing is, I'm worried about Toronto on Friday.
“That's my next start; that's what I have to worry about.”