BOSTON -- Because plate umpire Larry Vanover has a flair for the dramatic, he was able to provide a very fitting end to Jon Lester's latest triumph.
Lester's 123rd and final pitch Friday night, a cutter to Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, caught the outside corner. Vanover, in a nod to Frank Drebin, gave a full one-second pause, turned to his right and, with more than 37,000 hoping for a chance to erupt, punched out Reyes with panache.
With his second-longest pitch count of the season in the books, Lester left the mound to one of the larger eruptions on a night filled with them at Fenway Park. Given how his season has progressed, the Hollywood ending was rather fitting. Lester strolled into the sunset (the dugout, in this case), another chapter in another Red Sox revival story complete.
Lester tossed seven solid innings against a weak but still present Blue Jays lineup to lift Boston to the division-clinching 6-3 victory. It was the 100th win of his career, and among the most special for the resurgent lefty.
"I feel great. Back to being me," Lester said. "I had it in the beginning of the year, hit a little bump in the middle, got back to being me."
That little bump in the middle is becoming a distant memory, although in the interest of creating perspective it is worth noting. Lester was 2-4 with a 7.43 ERA over the course of eight starts in May and June. He is 7-4 with a 2.67 mark since, and has made this season look just like all the rest, save for the difficult 2012 campaign.
Having tutored Lester as his pitching coach early in the southpaw's career, Red Sox manager John Farrell can appreciate the journey.
"I think anytime you've got a homegrown guy start to finish to the point where we're at today, to be able to stand on the mound and pitch like he did, it's a sign of strength, it's a sigh of stability, which Jon has been," Farrell said.
Lester has thrown a no-hitter. He has thrown shutouts. He has dominated many opponents on many nights. On Friday, it seemed rather fitting that his outing, while very good, was not perfect. He was forced to wiggle out of a few situations, work through some pitch-heavy innings and do his best to come out unscathed.
That fighting spirit is what embodies the 2013 Red Sox, and it can easily be applied to Lester, who fought through a 2012 that had doubters lining up in droves and, again, that little bump that only made the doubters yell a bit louder. He will never be the same pitcher again, they would say. They should've traded him for Wil Myers!
Even if some of those individuals still exist, the roars of approval at Fenway Park on Friday would overwhelm their complaints.
Much like his season, Lester went through some trying times in the middle of his start. He loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth on a walk, an error and a single before inducing a double play and a strikeout to emerge unscored upon during a critical juncture in a game that remained tight into the late innings.
Lester allowed his lone run in the fifth and then walked the leadoff man in the sixth. With Boston nursing a 2-1 lead at the time, there was wonder if this would be a night of glory for the lefty.
It was, and the manner in which he completed his outing was the most impressive part. Lester struck out the side to strand that leadoff runner in the sixth and then emerged for the seventh, already over 100 pitches, to set down the Jays in order once again, capping it with a 10-pitch battle with Reyes that end with Lester painting the outside corner.
"It's something I've always said, especially when I've started off so slow in years past," he said before offering a line that applies both to his start Friday and to his season as a whole. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
Vanover's dramatic pause certainly added to the moment. But let's be honest. Lester wrote the script, and it's a hit.