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News » Red Sox LHP Lester, all better, unleashed on Rays

Red Sox LHP Lester, all better, unleashed on Rays

Red Sox LHP Lester, all better, unleashed on Rays
BOSTON (AP) - Jon Lester is pitching like an ace. Just don't call him that.

The strapping Red Sox left-hander hasn't allowed an earned run in 14 innings this postseason. That followed 5 2-3 shutout innings in a Game 4 win that completed a sweep of the Colorado Rockies in last year's World Series.

Ace? That's not a label he seeks.

"I don't think I try to be that," Lester said Sunday before Boston's offday workout. "It doesn't matter to me who's the No. 1 starter and who's the No. 5 starter. We all have equal importance to this team when it comes to winning."

It's Lester's turn on Monday in Game 3 of the AL championship series. The Tampa Bay Rays tapped Matt Garza to face him with the best-of-seven series tied at 1 and the next three games in Boston.

Lester was 11-1 at home this season, including a no-hitter May 19 against Kansas City, and 16-6 overall with a 3.21 ERA. He has not allowed an earned run in his last 22 2-3 postseason innings.

"He's pitching unbelievable right now, and I think he's become our ace," Kevin Youkilis said. "Coming here at home he always pitches pretty well, so we've just got to have him pitch a good game and jump on Garza as soon as we can."

Even if Lester is an ace, the Rays shouldn't approach him differently than any other pitcher, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena said.

"We understand that whether we're facing Lester, Godzilla, King Kong, we still have to just focus on the fact that we want to have some good at-bats, and if we keep it that simple we're helping ourselves out," he said. "If we start complicating a pitcher like Lester, that's the worst thing you can do."

Lester was a second-round draft pick by Boston in 2002 and kept progressing until he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymph nodes, as a rookie in 2006. He was pronounced cancer-free after chemotherapy in December and cleared to return to the mound in the spring of '07.

But the Red Sox brought him along slowly, against his wishes, and he finished the 2007 season 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings.

"I made a call to his folks in spring training, and I told them, 'We're really going to (upset) your son.' And they laughed," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They said, 'You know, we understand why.'

"I think it was the correct thing to do. He was pitching fine, but it wasn't what it is now."

Now Lester sees the wisdom in that approach.

"It was frustrating at times, but in the end it was the best thing for me," he said. "If they would have just let me go with no restrictions, I think I would have gotten hurt. I don't think I was physically ready to do the workload that I wanted to do. I was happy in the end that they did it."

Boston has had two of baseball's best postseason pitchers. But Josh Beckett struggled in his two postseason starts this month and Curt Schilling missed the entire season with shoulder problems.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched like an ace in Boston's 2-0 win in the opener against the Rays. But they tied the series Saturday night when B.J. Upton lofted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to shallow right field in the 11th inning to give Tampa Bay a 9-8 victory in which Beckett allowed eight runs in 4 1-3 innings.

"With what he's done," Boston reliever Manny Delcarmen said of Lester, "he's the guy everybody feels comfortable in after a tough loss that he's going to go out and throw well."

Lester didn't miss a start this season and is bigger and stronger than he was last year.

"He's got a delivery that's built for endurance," Francona said. "He's turned into a phenomenal major league pitcher on top of being a phenomenal kid."

Lester's growth is even visible from the other dugout.

"Being in control of his emotions and then having that sense of belonging, I really believe this guy knows how good he is right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Garza also has made strides. Obtained from Minnesota in an offseason trade, he was 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA.

"Lester's had a great year this year," Garza said, "but my year wasn't that bad either."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: October 13, 2008

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