Sure, he was having a good season by most standards but that painful outing kept him far from the limelight when it came to discussions of the best pitcher in the American League. In fact, his teammate, Clay Buchholz, was the only one being mentioned in talks surrounding the Cy Young Award.
Since then Lester has put forth a remarkably dominant run that is gaining more notoriety with each start.
His flirtation with a no-hitter in a 7-3 win at Yankee Stadium on Saturday simply reinforced the fact that Lester, once left for dead in talks of superiority, is quite possibly the A.L.’s elite pitcher and a candidate for its highest pitching honor.
"You guys tell me," Lester said with a smile after being asked if he deserved consideration. "I have no decision over that … I'm not really worried about it right now. Would it be nice to get a vote or would it be nice to be recognized for it? Sure. I’m not going to a lie to you and say ‘no.’ It would be nice, but it’s not going to hurt my feelings if not.
"I’m going to show up for spring training next year and be ready to go."
The lefty is now 6-0 with a 1.76 ERA since that outing against the Blue Jays. He has 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Yankees, including 13 1/3 straight in the Bronx, and has dropped his ERA to 2.96 overall. It is the first time the southpaw’s ERA has been below 3.00 since before the Blue Jays hammered him, and several of his other numbers are beginning to stack up with other aces around the A.L.
Lester is now one win shy of 20, trailing only New York’s CC Sabathia in that category. The ERA is fourth in the league. Nobody in the A.L. strikes out more men per nine innings than Lester (9.7) and he allows fewer hits per nine (6.9) than all but two others, Oakland’s Trevor Cahill and Texas’s C.J. Wilson. He sits ahead of Cy Young favorite Felix Hernandez in each of those categories, with the exception of ERA.
In addition, the 26-year-old Lester surpassed the 200-inning mark for the third straight year Saturday and has a chance in his final start at Chicago on Thursday to establish a new career high in that category, as well as strikeouts (he has 220 of those, tied for second in the A.L.).
The durability factor means more to Lester than any accolades me might pick up along the way.
“I think that number is more important to me than any other stat that’s out there,” he said of his 204 innings pitched.
The consistency comes as no surprise to Lester’s manager, who has seen his horse get stronger as the year has gone on, keeping with a career-long trend for the lefty. Lester is now 15-2 with a 2.63 ERA in his career during the month of September .
"For whatever reason it takes him time to get rolling and to kind of repeat his pitches," Terry Francona said. "Once he gets into that mode he’s relentless. He’s built for the long haul and he’s maturing into one of the better pitchers in the league."
After that disaster vs. the Blue Jays, Lester was 13-8 with a 3.26 ERA and had less than one strikeout per inning. When Buchholz tossed six scoreless innings against the Jays just two days later his ERA was exactly one run less than Lester’s, his record stood at 15-5 and he was considered one of four or five front-runners for the Cy Young Award.
That dream likely died when Buchholz went three starts without a win, giving up five runs in just one inning in the third of those losing efforts. And like a sports car passing a sedan in the left lane of the interstate Lester has motored to the front of his fellow All-Star. On Saturday he kept his foot on the gas.
Lester retired the first 12 he faced, striking out half of them. A leadoff walk to Alex Rodriguez gave New York a base runner to start the fifth, but he was erased on a double play and Lester’s seventh K sent him to the sixth having faced the minimum and still with a no-hitter intact.
That bid was lost in the sixth when the Yanks had a pair of soft singles. Thanks to having a runner thrown out at home plate Lester was able to keep alive his scoreless streak vs. New York and improve to 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA against his rivals this year.
Emphasizing the effectiveness of Lester against the Bronx Bombers is this little nugget: The Yanks hit six home runs in the final seven innings of Friday night’s game and then got their seventh and eighth of the series the moment Lester left on Saturday.
Lester vs. New York in the series: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, 0 HR
Everyone else vs. New York in the series: 11 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 10 K, 8 HR
Talk about standing out among your peers. Lester is not only doing so on his own team, but is now firmly entrenched on the short list of Cy Young candidates.
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