Sure, their personalities are polar opposites, but Lester?s efforts act very much like those of Keitel, whose job description, in his own words, was as simple as could be: ?I solve problems.?
Lately, that?s been Lester?s role, picking his team off the mat twice in the past week alone with outstanding pitching performances against the two best teams in the American League.
In both instances, the Red Sox had lost their previous two games. In both instances, the losses were truly painful. Boston had problems. Lester solved them.
First, the Sox lost two straight in New York while scoring only four runs and despite having Josh Beckett starting opposite Yankees fill-in Dustin Moseley on Sunday night.
Then, following two walk-off losses that were about as heart-wrenching as one could imagine, especially in the midst of a playoff race, Lester entered 100-degree weather in Arlington on Saturday and once again provided a huge pick-me-up.
Lester yielded five hits in eight scoreless innings of a 3-1 win. He struck out five, did not walk a batter for the second time all season and ran his shutout streak to 14 1/3 innings. Again, that?s against the Yankees and Rangers. On the road. In August. With his team coming off consecutive losses.
Throw in the fact that both Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard were unavailable out of the Boston bullpen due to their recent workload and you could make a case that Lester?s start on Saturday was the most clutch this season for the Red Sox.
?They have a real dangerous lineup and he was determined. And he needed to be,? manager Terry Francona said. ?He knew what we didn?t have out in the bullpen and he gave us a lot. The heat, he didn?t feel too good, but you couldn?t tell by the way he pitched.?
Texas had one major threat against Lester. Nelson Cruz tripled into the corner in right with one out in the seventh. Leading 1-0 the Red Sox elected to pull in the infield and Lester gave his defense something easy to handle. David Murphy grounded weakly to Mike Lowell at first base to hold the runner and record the second out. Jorge Cantu then chopped one to second and Lester had survived.
The always subdued and often intense Lester took in stride what could be a seminal moment in the team?s season.
?Just trying to execute pitches,? said Lester. ?Did that to Murphy and fortunately he rolled it over to Mikey Lowell. Just one pitch away after that. I did do a good job of that tonight, just taking it one pitch at a time. Not getting too ahead of myself. That was obviously big for us to get out of that inning.?
Lester cruised through the eighth and gave way to the unheralded combination of Scott Atchison and Felix Doubront in the ninth after throwing his 109th pitch, just a shade over the temperature on the field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Lester recently endured a personal four-game losing streak. He knows the importance of ending such slides. With Saturday?s victory his last three wins have ended losing streaks of at least two games and he is now 4-1 overall following team losses.
On a night in which Tampa Bay and New York also won and the Sox put another player on the disabled list (Jacoby Ellsbury), there were potential pitfalls all over the place. With Lester on the mound everything was fine.