Lester looks special in outdueling Sale
April, 18, 2014
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com
CHICAGO -- Jake Peavy watched tall, skinny Chris Sale, fresh out of Florida Gulf Coast University, become a star in Chicago. He watched Jon Lester win a World Series in Boston. Days ago, he forecast that this would be special.
"I'm not going to lie," Peavy said Thursday night after his buddy Sale and teammate Lester both took no-hitters into the sixth inning before the Red Sox prevailed 3-1 with two runs in the ninth off White Sox reliever Ronald Belisario. "I did see a pretty good one coming. At one point in time, I'm thinking, 'Something's gotta give.'
"That was worth the price of admission. As a baseball purist and someone who loves the game, I hope people locked in to what was going on tonight. That's two bona fide No. 1-stuff guys, No. 1 makeup guys, two really, really good southpaws, two of the best pitchers in the league.
"Not to take anything away from Clayton Kershaw. He gets a ton of hype, as he should, but these two guys don't get nearly the hype, and they're at the same level. These guys are special."
So maybe the Kershaw comp is a little excessive (Lester's agents, the Levinson brothers, have gotta love it), but you get the idea. Sale gave up one hit in seven innings, a 444-foot home run by Red Sox rookie Xander Bogaerts with one out in the sixth. Lester was perfect through the first 16 batters, allowing only one ball out of the infield, before the White Sox strung together three hits in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score.
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesJon Lester was in full command Thursday, retiring the first 16 batters he faced.
Sale struck out 10 in grinding out 127 pitches in seven innings. The Bogaerts home run was the only hit he allowed, although it took a terrific leaping catch by center fielder Adam Eaton to keep David Ortiz from a home run, too, in the first. Lester went one inning more, allowing seven hits, striking out nine and not walking a batter and emerged with the win when his battery mate, David Ross, doubled home a run and pinch hitter Jonathan Herrera squeezed home another.
"A heavyweight bout," Lester called it. "It was whoever made a mistake first. [Sale] did, and I gave it right back. But it was a fun night to pitch."
Not a bad game to catch, either, according to Ross.
"He was rolling tonight," said Ross, who has caught each of Lester's past three starts. "You could have had a 5-year-old catching today."
Lester smiled when Ross' words were relayed to him.
"I don't know how to take that," he said. "Rossie and I have had a pretty good rhythm the last couple of starts. He does a great job for me back there. He's been fun."
Lester has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of his four starts so far this season while pitching at least into the seventh in all four. But this is hardly a new development.
In his past 19 starts going back to last Aug. 8 -- his last 10 regular-season starts of 2013, five postseason starts and first four starts of 2014 -- Lester has a 2.02 ERA (30 earned runs in 133⅔ innings). He has 110 strikeouts and 32 walks in that span, including a 29/4 K/BB ratio this season.
Whatever concerns the Red Sox had that pitching deep into October might lead to a drop in Lester's performance this season have evaporated.
Pitch like he has, and you can afford to politely decline an offer of four years, $70 million-plus from the Sox, which is exactly what Lester did at the end of this spring. That's serious coin, to be sure, but well below the going rate for someone with Lester's portfolio.
Here's all you need to know about how well Lester is pitching: "Tonight I felt like my location was pretty good," he said. "I was pounding the bottom of the zone. But as far as no-hit stuff, powerful stuff, I felt normal."
Funny thing is, Ross said the same thing.
"He pitched like he normally does," Ross said.
If this is Lester's normal, this should be pretty special for the rest of us. Just the way Peavy said it would be.