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Lester stifles Yanks, deflects contract talk

6/29/2014

NEW YORK -- Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy was grinning as he watched teammate Jon Lester slide in front of the TV cameras after outdueling Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka in Boston's 2-1 win over the Bombers on Saturday night.

"Maybe they'll give him $85 million now," Peavy cracked mischievously, loud enough for a small smile to sneak across Lester's face.

Saturday night, the Red Sox reached the midpoint of what could be Lester's last season with the Red Sox, Lester at his masterful best in outpitching Tanaka. The win was Lester's ninth of the season. In taking a no-hitter into the sixth and allowing just one unearned run over eight innings, Lester lowered his earned run average to a season-best 2.92, which places him in the league's top 10.

The last Red Sox pitcher to hold the Yankees to no earned runs in eight innings or more in the Bronx? Why, that would be Jon Lester, who threw a complete-game shutout July 3, 2008, in the previous version of Yankee Stadium, the one torn down to make room for this billion-dollar palace.

Peavy is no Warren Buffett, but he can spot a commodity on the come. Whatever Lester was worth at the start of this season, the price has only gone up.

There have been no negotiations between Lester and the Sox since the sides agreed to break off talks in the spring, after the Sox made a four-year, $70 million offer. The 30-year-old left-hander did an admirable job of not openly mocking just how far below the going rate that is for pitchers of his pedigree.

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino has said the Sox intend to make another run at Lester before the season ends. The logical time to do so would be at the All-Star break, when unfinished business typically has a chance to be revisited. Lester imagines the Sox may come calling at that time, but is skeptical that anything substantive will be done.

"I would imagine it will probably take longer than the break to get something done," Lester said, without stating the obvious -- there's a Big Dig-sized chasm separating the sides.

"I think when you do something like this, it's hard to squeeze into three days. We had two months in spring training, and couldn't get something done. I don't think three days would really help that."

The club has the prerogative to make him an offer at that time, Lester said, but because he figures it's a long shot that the gap will close enough to strike a deal, he said he would be content to wait until after the season. It's not as if he's not keeping the channels open; he said he talks regularly to GM Ben Cherington.

"I think we're all on the same page where we're at, besides the [dollars]," he said. "I think both sides are OK waiting. That's the feeling I get. I've expressed that to Ben. We've talked. I don't like [negotiating] right now.

"I've said this to Ben, my biggest concern is something bad happening [talks falling apart]. Obviously both sides want to get something done, but what if we don't? It's Boston, it's going to get leaked at some point, and then it's a distraction. We don't need distractions. We need to worry about playing good baseball."

By not signing Lester to a long-term extension in the spring, the Sox have left themselves vulnerable in what may well become a high-stakes poker game. When a player gets that close to free agency, it's hard to resist discovering what he might command on the open market.

Lester has not allowed those kinds of thoughts into his conversation. He has not deviated from his stance that this is where he wants to pitch, this is where he wants to be, this is where his family is happy. To say anything else at this stage would invite the kind of distractions he says he so desperately wants to avoid.

"I don't want to be a distraction for my teammates," he said. "I don't want them to answer questions, the manager answering questions. Obviously it will come back to me answering questions. I feel like now is not the right time for that.

"They have every right to make an offer. That's a bridge we'll cross when we get there. But like I've said, in my mind I've shut it off. I feel like we've agreed we're not going to talk about it and I've shut it off."

And what if the Sox should approach him at the break with an offer that significantly trumps their opening salvo. Say, one that would pass the smell test for, say, Peavy?

"If they make an offer that's right there [market value]," Lester said, "yeah, then maybe something can get done."