Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jon Lester's Amazing Night

It's been far too long since my last update, unfortunately I've been preoccupied with school work, getting ready for the summer, "Lost," following the political happenings over at Blue Musings, and watching the Celtics on their run to a 17th NBA title. It's been a ho-hum season in baseball thus far in my opinion, with the Red Sox playing streaky and spending lots of time looking up at the Rays (what?) in the AL East. But everything that I love about baseball came rushing back last night when lymphoma-survivor Jon Lester pitched the greatest game of his life in front of a packed Fenway Park. He no-hit the KC Royals on 130 pitches and reminded everyone, fans and non-fans alike, the power of the human spirit.

Lester had everything going last night. He was hitting 94-95 with his fastball, even after he'd already thrown 115 pitches. His cutter was darting from one side of the plate to the other with ease, and his curve was buckling the knees of Alex Gordon, Jose Guillen and Billy Butler alike. For all of us who've been watching Lester ever since his big league debut in 2006, we always saw the potential. Here was a lefty with good breaking stuff, a fastball that could blow away good hitters, and enough poise to fill an entire stadium. Then came his illness, and we all watched with baited breath as he built his body for a most improbable comeback. His performance in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series was inspirational in the least and a beautiful display of courage we could all appreciate. And last night, Lester finally put together the game we all expected he was capable of.

The best thing I saw from Lester last night was the confidence in his fastball to get ahead of just about every Royals hitter. Lester has been labeled with the dreaded "nibbler" tag to this point in his career, but there was nothing remotely resembling a nibbler on the mound at Fenway last night. He was going right at the free-swinging Royals, and he got the majority of his 27 outs on ground balls. Lester was not afraid to let his sterling defenders (save Julio Lugo) do their jobs behind him, including a spectacular play by Jacoby Ellsbury in the 4th inning that wound up being the closest thing to a hit allowed by Lester all night.

I was worried that once he got past 110 pitches that Terry Francona might pull the plug on Lester's night even if the no-hitter was still going. But Francona kept his man on the hill and allowed him to get to where he could blow away Alberto Callaspo on his 130th and final pitch of the night. Much of the credit for this no-hitter must go to Jason Varitek, who has now caught an all-time record four no-hit games. I don't think that achievement by Varitek is a coincidence. It's even more amazing considering the no-hitters have come from a Japanese hurler (Nomo), a headcase (Lowe) and two kids (Buchholz and Lester). His own composure and prowess at calling games means much more to the pitchers in these situation than any of us can fully appreciate. Here's to hoping Varitek hasn't caught his last no-hitter in a Boston uniform.

I wrote after the World Series about how we wouldn't know about Lester's courage if it wasn't for baseball. I was reminded of this last night. Way to go, Jon.