Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester

Lester thanks fans in full-page ad

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
3:07
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Jon Lester said goodbye to Red Sox fans in a full-page ad in the Boston Globe (we wonder if Red Sox owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, gave him a discount).



Here's the text of the ad:


Dear Red Sox Nation,

I have a lifetime of great memories of Boston highlighted by 2 World Championships! Boston will always be home and the love that Red Sox Nation has shown me is something that I will forever cherish. You are truly the best Fans in the world! I have been blessed to play with the greatest teammates who are family to me. I want to thank the Staff, Front Office, and Ownership for always showing me respect and supporting me during the difficult times. This organization, the fans, and this city have embraced my family and me. My wife, my children, and I will always be grateful for the love and kindness that we have enjoyed in Boston. Thank y'all!

With all our love,
Jon and Farrah, Hudson, Walker and the Lester family
NVRQT

Some Sox players say Lester will be back

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
11:25
PM ET
video

BOSTON -- A couple of Red Sox players said early Saturday afternoon that they are convinced former teammate Jon Lester will re-sign with Boston as a free agent during the offseason.

Lester’s former teammates were curious how he would fare in Oakland as a rental pitcher, and the left-hander made a relatively easy transition to the AL West by leading the A’s to an 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals at the Oakland County Coliseum. Lester worked 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on nine hits, with one walk and three strikeouts to improve his record to 11-7.

The pitcher received help from some old friends. The A’s scored eight runs in the win, but five were driven in by former Red Sox teammates. Gomes provided two RBIs, while Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick and Nick Punto contributed one apiece.

“I think being traded to this team was a blessing because I knew so many guys on it,” Lester told reporters in Oakland.

Purely a rental for the Athletics, the team that owns the best record in baseball and could contend for a World Series title this season, Lester will gain a lot of attention from the free-agent market. Many believe there’s no way he will re-sign with Boston, because it goes against conventional wisdom. They say that other clubs, maybe even the Yankees, will open their wallets and offer Lester well above market value.

But even if other clubs offer Lester a big contract, a few Red Sox players believe he will take less money to return to Boston. Lester is cut from a different cloth, they argue. He worked so hard to achieve the success and consistency during his entire career in the Red Sox organization. He has a special bond with John Farrell, as both a former pitching coach and now manager. Plus, he was disappointed about leaving Boston, they say.

If that’s the case, and Lester returns to the Sox as the ace of the staff while Cespedes continues to hit cleanup, the players and fans in Boston would be thrilled. But don't get your hopes up. It's probably just wishful thinking.
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Jon Lester

A fan's case for Jon Lester

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
1:33
PM ET
TORONTO -- He didn’t want his name to be used, because he likes to send ideas to the Red Sox and didn’t want to risk being cut off. But a man who describes himself as a passionate fan of the club shared a recent e-mail he sent to the Sox front office, making a case for re-signing Jon Lester. He shared it with ESPN Boston; because it’s so well-stated, we’re sharing it with you.

Some input on Lester (and I know that none of it will be particularly novel, but you've often encouraged me to keep the inputs coming):

I know it's not my money and that Lester has to be viewed in the larger context -- creating an overall salary structure, the kids on the way up, the risk that he declines over time, etc.

But... even with all that, here's one vote in favor of going well above and beyond the comfort zone, if necessary.

Why:

1. He's a legit ace and there are so few of them in baseball.

2. He's a postseason warrior and we know that guys like that -- who raise their games in October -- are rare. He's done it enough for us to safely conclude that it's real in his case, like it was with Schilling.

3. He likely has the admiration and respect of all, or nearly all, of his teammates.

4. As a fan, I understood losing Ellsbury. The Yankees' offer was stupid money and Jacoby is a nice player, a very good player, who put up ONE sensational season. And nothing more, at least thus far. From what I have heard, he was not a popular guy on the team and was one of the few outsiders on last year's tight club. As a fan, letting Salty go made sense. As a fan, I could see both sides of the Drew situation.

Losing Jon Lester would be different. It would truly hurt. It would be a painful reminder of why it's not good to invest overly in anything but the laundry. That might be the harsh reality, but sports are romantic and we fall in love with some of the players. Lester is one of them.

5. As a fan, losing Jon to the Yankees would be intolerable. Enough of that. Especially as a fan living down here, it just cannot be tolerated. The Boston Red Sox should not be a feeder club to the Yankees. Leave that for the Royals and A's and other small-market teams.

6. Other money will be coming off the books; I think, and please excuse my boldness, that suffering one possible large overpay will not break the bank or make it impossible to put forth a roster than can compete for the title.

Status quo in Lester talks

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
12:01
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TORONTO -- It’s curious that after weeks of silence on the topic, Red Sox majority owner John W. Henry finally weighed in on the Jon Lester contract situation, emailing the Boston Herald to say that the sides have agreed to “put off” further negotiations until after the season. But it’s a stretch to say that Henry’s comments are a sign that Lester is a goner or that the Sox will not ultimately make an offer more in line with the current market for a top-of-the-line pitcher.

What it means is that informal conversations in recent weeks between the sides have not led to a resumption of negotiations, which already were “tabled” after spring training. CEO Larry Lucchino had said before the All-Star break that the club intended to approach Lester, but it hasn’t proceeded to the stage of making another offer. There is still time to do so, and sources on both sides still maintain that both the club and Lester want the pitcher to remain with Boston.

Clearly, the closer Lester comes to becoming a free agent, the chances that he will test the open market increase, but there still is a window for the Sox to conduct substantive negotiations before the start of the free-agency period.

Assuming that he is not signed before then, Lester will become a free agent at 9 a.m. on the day after the last game of the World Series. A “quiet period” follows, in which the Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights, but other teams can discuss their interest in him.

During the “quiet period,” the Sox can make Lester a one-year qualifying offer, equal to the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in the game. Last year that figure was more than $14 million. Lester would then have seven days to accept or decline the offer; if he declines it, the Sox would receive a first-round sandwich pick as compensation, while the club signing him would sacrifice a first-round pick.

Lester: 'No bad feelings' in contract talks

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
9:25
PM ET
BOSTON -- Despite the All-Star break offering an opportunity for the Boston Red Sox and pitcher Jon Lester to make progress on a contract extension, Lester said Thursday night that general manager Ben Cherington didn't contact him at any point during the break.

Speaking at his third annual "NVRQT Night," Lester said the lack of recent talks hasn't been a disappointment for him.

"There are no bad feelings on either side," Lester said. "I think everybody is in a good place and we both have the understanding that we're good with where we're at. We're focused on the season and getting back to the top."

A free agent at the end of the year, Lester is 9-7 with a 2.65 ERA in 19 starts this season. He pitched an inning for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game, allowing two runs on three hits.

"NVRQT" (short for "never quit") is a partnership between the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Lester, who was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 22 and overcame the disease to return to the majors a year later. The campaign was formed to raise awareness and money for children's cancer research.

Held at the House of Blues in Boston, "NVRQT Night" attracted many familiar faces on Thursday, including many of Lester's teammates, New England Patriots players Julian Edelman and Dominique Easley, and other local celebrities and media personalities.

The festivities consisted of a "3 Up, 3 Down" Hollywood Squares-style game featuring Lester and his wife, Farrah, as contestants, as well as a live silent auction.

"This is a good way to cap [the break] off," Lester said. "Hopefully we'll have a good night tonight and a good second half after this."

Lester knocked around in lone inning

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:45
PM ET
Jon Lester was handed a 3-0 lead when he took the mound at the All-Star Game, but allowed two runs to the National League on a trio of loud hits.

[+] EnlargeLester
Elsa/Getty ImagesJon Lester gave up two runs on three straight hits.
After Felix Hernandez blanked the NL in the top of the first and Derek Jeter sparked a three-run rally for the AL in the bottom of the inning, Lester was called upon by Red Sox (and AL) manager John Farrell in the top of the second.

Lester got Giancarlo Stanton on a pop-up to second to start the inning, but then gave up a single to Aramis Ramirez. Chase Utley followed with a double high off the wall in right to score Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy knocked in Utley with a hard double to left.

Lester escaped further damage when Carlos Gomez fouled out and Andrew McCutcheon flied out to center.

Lester had allowed just one earned run over his previous three starts, covering 23 innings.

Koji Uehara's first All-Star Game appearance was brief but successful.

Entering with the AL holding a 5-3 lead with a runner on third and two outs in the sixth inning, Uehara struck out the only batter he faced, Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, on four pitches.

“That was enough,” Uehara told reporters in Minneapolis through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “I wasn’t able to enjoy it. I was so nervous.”

Lester joins celebs in tipping cap to Jeter

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
6:15
PM ET


MINNEAPOLIS -- First you see Derek Jeter’s iconic No. 2 in pinstripes walk up to the plate, then the Air Jordan logo on his cleats before the camera pans to a rear view of the pitcher with the name “Lester” on the back of his uniform.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was the first of many celebrities and athletes featured in the Jordan brand’s tribute to Jeter, which was released Monday. Jeter will be playing in the 14th and final All-Star game of his 20-year career on Tuesday.

“It was cool, a cool experience,” Lester said. “I was really honored that they asked me to be a part of that. Another thing to go along with a class-act guy.”

The cameos could double as a VIP list for any top-notch club, as Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Tiger Woods, Billy Crystal, Jay Z and others all tip their caps to Jeter in a sign of respect -- all coming after Lester starts things off with a tip of his cap from the mound.

In 71 career at-bats against Lester, Jeter has hit .338 with 10 RBIs to 11 strikeouts.

Near the end of the 100-second advertisement, a pair of Red Sox fans are seen begrudgingly showing the universal sign of respect by lifting their caps.

“I think regardless of how big or how bad the rivalry ever got,” Lester said, “I think fans all around baseball, especially Red Sox fans, always respect and appreciate how Jeter goes about his business. That’s the biggest thing you hear about him -- yeah great baseball player, but even better guy. We all try to be like him, but he’s so damn perfect, seems like he never does anything wrong, I don’t think we can live up to him.”

Lester will have to wait until one of the nine remaining Red Sox-Yankees games this season for his next crack at Jeter, if he even wants another one.

“I’m just glad he’s finally done so I don’t have to face him anymore,” Lester said.

Lester says desire to stay hasn't wavered

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
5:53
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jon Lester doesn’t want to talk about finality -- not about his third career All-Star appearance, how long he could maintain his high level of play or if his Boston Red Sox career could be coming to a close.

Lester, 30, might not have all the answers right now, but with free agency looming at the end of the season, he knows those questions will get addressed soon.

“Talking about nostalgia, could be my last All-Star Game, I’m not worried about that right now,” Lester said. “I don’t like the unknown. It doesn’t sit well with me.”

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesAlthough contract talks haven't been successful yet, Jon Lester remains hopeful he'll sign an extension with the Red Sox.
Lester is in the middle of the best season of his nine-year career. Though he’s just 9-7, Lester boasts a 2.65 ERA -- the best of any Red Sox starter -- with 134 strikeouts in 129 innings.

Red Sox manager John Farrell, also serving as the American League manager in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, named Seattle’s Felix Hernandez the All-Star starter -- one of only nine pitchers in baseball with a better ERA than Lester’s.

Lester, who was drafted 57th overall by Boston in 2002, continues to express his desire to remain with the Red Sox throughout his career -- even if he hasn’t yet agreed to an extension that will make that possible.

“Everybody is hopeful on everything,” Lester said. “The right time will come when we sit down and talk about it, whether it’s tomorrow or four months from now.”

The Red Sox made Lester an offer in the ballpark of four years and $70 million during spring training, that Lester and his camp turned down; further discussions haven’t closed the gap enough to get a deal done, though the Sox could still make a run at it. Lester had been on record saying he’d take a hometown discount, but Monday he wouldn’t go as far as to say the team exploited his position.

“I don’t think 'exploited' is the right word; they took a shot. They put the collective offer out there, that’s where they wanted to start off,” Lester said. “We had plenty of talks after that as far as money, moving years, moving money, but never got to another offer. Like I said, Opening Day came and went, and we put it on the back burner.”

Discussions have been ongoing during the season as he and general manager Ben Cherington have had “four to six” talks throughout the past couple of months.

Lester’s main focus is on the 2014 season, but if he were to make it to free agency, there’s no doubt in his mind what team he'd like to hear from first.

“I don’t want this to be a distraction for the team. I don’t want Jackie Bradley Jr. to have to answer questions about my contract,” Lester said. “I hope Boston is the first team that calls me and they don’t have to worry about it.”

Lester, Red Sox won't give up hope

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
11:15
PM ET

BOSTON -- A two-game winning streak, by virtue of a pair of walk-off wins, does not make the cellar dwellers of the AL East sudden contenders.

At 41-51, 9½ games back in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox still have a long way to go to get back in contention. General manager Ben Cherington realizes he'll need to make changes, and to some extent, he's already begun that process.

The Red Sox concluded their homestand with a 3-7 record, but walk-off wins in the last two games have boosted morale in the clubhouse. On Thursday, Mike Carp delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Red Sox a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox.

[+] EnlargeMike Carp
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Red Sox mob Mike Carp after his game-winning hit in Thursday's 4-3 walk-off triumph.
In the clubhouse, the Red Sox believe there's plenty of baseball remaining to make a serious push, and maybe, just maybe, these last two games will give them the confidence they seem to desperately need.

After Thursday's win, Red Sox manager John Farrell maintained that there's a lot more bite left in this club.

"Hopefully it gives us some momentum going into the final series before the break," Farrell said. "Again, I want to reiterate as much as possible that this is a team that is still highly competitive and we've got some things we're working with and getting guys established. Our goal and our intent is the same every day and that's to go out and hopefully finish off a game like we have the last two days."

The Red Sox travel to Houston to face the lowly Astros in a three-game set before the All-Star break. If the Red Sox can finish strong before the break, potentially with a sweep and five-game winning streak, they could find themselves feeling good about their chances to make a push in the second half. After winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox expected to deal with certain challenges this season, but not to this extent.

"It can be hard for people to understand, because it's such a slow game, I think it deceives people, but it's such a momentum-based game," said Jon Lester, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball Thursday. "You get a couple of guys feeling good about themselves and you build on that momentum."

The Red Sox would like to see David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia & Co. get on a roll. If Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks can get healthy and return to the lineup, it would help, too.

"Then it starts to snowball and guys start to feel good up at the plate and you start scoring some runs and we start winning those one-run games," Lester said. "Then, the rotation gets on a five-man roll and everybody starts feeling good, and you look up and all of a sudden, in this division, you're three games out and who knows what can happen."

But does this roster, as currently constituted, have the ability to make that push in the second half?

On Wednesday, the Red Sox started five rookies, and that youthful spark helped Boston erase a four-run deficit and finish with a 5-4 walk-off win. Brock Holt delivered the winning punch with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. On Thursday morning, he spoke about how energetic the team was and how different the atmosphere in the ballpark felt after the Sox's victory.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJon Lester hopes an infusion of talented youngsters can spark the Red Sox back into the AL East race.
Maybe the youth movement will help rescue this year's club, as it did back in 2007.

"The past month or so we've had a bunch of new guys filter in, young guys, and maybe they can be dumb enough and naive enough to just say, 'Yeah, screw it. Let's go,'" Lester said. "And maybe give us that little bit of spark."

Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, who has a flair for the dramatic, agrees with Lester's observations.

"Every Hall of Famer, every superstar in our game was young at one point," Gomes said. "No one came out of the womb running. As far as experience, it's a little different on that end, but those guys are fitting in pretty well and if they keep playing exciting [baseball] we'll be all right."

When Cherington and Farrell began to build the team that eventually won the World Series in 2013, they wanted to fill the clubhouse with character players. That philosophy worked and it translated onto the field. Lester believes the cohesiveness remains this season, despite the club's sub-.500 record.

"As far as the clubhouse stuff, I don't think any of that has changed," he said. "Our performance on the field, for whatever reason, hasn't translated this year like it did last year. I feel like last year was one of those years that everything went right -- no matter what we did."

Living in the AL East basement is not fun. Many players on this team learned that during 2012 and rebounded with a vengeance in 2013. The clubhouse culture, which has been dissected time and again over the last few seasons, is different again this year, too. Winning breeds good chemistry, and the Red Sox are hoping they can find that harmony again in the second half.

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"No one ever came out of Game 162 in last place and they're like, 'Man, this was so fun. This was a blast. I love these guys.' When you're talking about team chemistry it always goes to winning," Gomes said. "The game is peaks and valleys, so when you are in those valleys clubhouses can separate, clubhouses can divide, but the good-chemistry teams come out of those valleys faster than not."

For all the magic of 2013, when trailing in the ninth inning was no big deal and Boston always seemed to find a way to win the close games, it hasn't happened like that this season.

The Red Sox have 19 one-run losses, which is the most in the American League and second in the majors. In fact, Boston has played 36 games this season that have been decided by one run, with a 17-19 record.

"That's the biggest thing that stands out to me," Lester said. "Unfortunately, we've been on the other side of those games and hopefully in the second half we can win some of those games and that will definitely put us further up in the standings."

This season, the Red Sox have dealt with turnover in personnel, both before and during the season. As in hockey, it appears the Red Sox are continually changing on the fly. On Wednesday, the Red Sox designated veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment. The trade deadline is only a few weeks away and it's a safe bet Cherington will do something before the end of the month.

Despite the past two victories, it remains difficult to believe this team can turn things around. Maybe, just maybe, that skepticism is exactly the motivation the Red Sox need.
BOSTON -- Part of the collateral damage from the Red Sox's first-half struggles came clear on Sunday, when Jon Lester was the team's lone representative named to the American League All-Star squad (although a second member, Koji Uehara, is in line to eventually pick up a spot).

No David Ortiz, no Dustin Pedroia, who have been regular participants in recent years. Ortiz had been selected nine of the last 10 years, Pedroia four of the last six.

Lester, who earned his third All-Star selection, still talks about the honor with stars in his eyes.

“This is what you want to do as a kid. You watch All-Star Games, you watch the playoffs on TV and you dream about one day hopefully being in that position,” Lester said. “And to live that dream and have that opportunity to go to three All-Star Games, and two World Series rings -- I don’t want to say it’s a dream come true because hopefully I have a few more World Series in me and all the other stuff to go along with it. Everyone in this room dreams about it as a kid.”

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesJon Lester earned his third All-Star selection, but teammates David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia didn't make the cut.
The selection of Lester by Red Sox manager John Farrell is easily justified by the numbers.

Lester made a strong stamp on his All-Star resume in May when he fanned a career-high 15 batters in a win over Oakland. He followed that up with seven more strong starts. Since the beginning of June, Lester is 4-1 with an ERA of 1.65, striking out 39 batters in 49 innings and allowing just eight walks. He posted an ERA of 1.98 for the month of June, his best full month in nearly four years.

Currently, Lester ranks seventh in the AL in ERA (2.73) and strikeouts (122), and is tied for eighth in wins (9). Among AL lefties, Lester is second only to Tampa Bay’s David Price in K’s, and third to Toronto’s Mark Buehrle and Oakland’s Scott Kazmir in wins.

Farrell said that Lester and Uehara, who Farrell said is the first alternate replacement, have been playing “All-Star caliber baseball this entire first half of the season.”

“When you look at what Jon’s been able to do in terms of where he stacks up with other starters -- top five or top six in most pitching categories -- he has earned the selection,” Farrell said.

While it’s assumed that Uehara eventually will be added to the AL squad -- several starters are lined up to pitch on Sunday -- the reliever was cautious when approached about the All-Star Game. Asked through a translator if he was surprised about not getting selected initially, Uehara said, “No, not at all,” adding with a laugh, “I have some things to do during the All-Star break myself.”

Ortiz and Pedroia expressed similar indifference despite their popularity in the polls. Ortiz finished third among AL designated hitters with 2.4 million votes, while Pedroia finished fourth among AL second basemen with 1.8 million.

Pedroia laughed when asked about any disappointment, saying “[I’m going to] get some sleep, man.”

Ortiz had several conversations with Farrell about his potential selection, with Ortiz essentially ceding his spot.

“I’m a fan of guys who have had a really, really good first half making the All-Star Game, and there’s a couple guys ahead of me this year at my position,” Ortiz said. “We had a conversation, and [Farrell] asked me how I feel about it, and I said I just don’t feel like taking those guys’ places.

"I don’t think it’s fair to guys like Nelson Cruz and Victor [Martinez] and [Edwin] Encarnacion, who are having unbelievable seasons, they don’t have as many All-Star Games as I have. You just keep it real. They’re having a better season than what I’m having, and they well deserved it.”

Lester named All-Star; Koji likely addition

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
7:42
PM ET
BOSTON -- Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester will be joining his manager John Farrell in Minnesota for the All-Star Game July 15.

Nine-time All-Star David Ortiz, however, will not.

As part of the “Taco Bell All-Star Selection Show” on ESPN Sunday night, Lester was announced as a manager’s decision for this year’s game, his third time making the American League team. Lester was the only Red Sox player announced as part of the initial 33-man roster.

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is in line to be named to the team as a replacement pitcher by Farrell in the coming days. Farrell indicated a number of pitchers will be replaced because they are scheduled to pitch the Sunday before the break. Uehara has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities this season, posting a 1.30 ERA and striking out 52 in 41 2/3 innings.

After jumping out to a quick lead at designated hitter in the All-Star fan vote, Ortiz eventually lost to Baltimore Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz, who is tied for the major league lead in home runs (27) and leads in RBIs (71). Ortiz has turned in a strong year at the plate, hitting .261 and leading Boston with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Ortiz was named an All-Star every year from 2004-2008, as well as from 2010-2013.

“There were a couple of conversations that led up to the selection of it,” Farrell said. “Had a chance to talk to David and felt like the four days of rest might be more advantageous to him. And he was a pro about it -- spoke his mind and really had a lot of input into the decision.”

In the midst of a career year, Lester is 9-7 with a 2.73 ERA in 18 starts. His 122 strikeouts are second to Tampa Bay’s David Price among AL left-handers while his ERA ranks sixth in the AL.

“When you look at what Jon has been able to do in terms of where he stacks up with other starters -- in the top five or top six in most pitching categories -- he has earned the selection,” Farrell said.
BOSTON -- There are times in Jon Lester's career, as Red Sox manager John Farrell tells it, that you just keep the reins loose. You give him the ball, then you get out of the way.

Perhaps that best explains why, with relievers Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara warming up to start the eighth inning, Lester came out and finished the inning off, inducing Nelson Cruz into a highlight-reel double play turned by Stephen Drew to leave one of the majors' most-feared hitters at 0-for-4 on the day.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJon Lester went eight strong innings in the Red Sox's 3-2 walk-off win over the Orioles on Saturday.
"He's in that gray area, we're sending him out with 108 pitches to start the eighth inning, but he never really labored at all," Farrell said after Boston's 3-2 win. "Because of the rhythm, he never overworked to create velocity. He was coming off a couple of extra days' rest so we had that on our side. Just a very strong game by Jon."

In all, it was another masterful performance for the lefty. Lester got a no-decision, striking out seven and allowing no earned runs in eight innings and 118 pitches (83 strikes), inducing 13 groundouts and three fly outs.

Catcher David Ross said Lester was "as good as I've seen ... in awhile."

Lester worked both sides of plate, getting hitters to chase low and in, low and away, and even up high a few times.

"He was really sharp today, throwing the ball to both sides of the plate [with a] down angle, great cutter, great breaking ball, had some phenomenal two-seam fastballs to get ground balls," Ross said. "Sometimes for me, Johnny can get a little rattled, but today he really kept his poise. We didn't really play well behind him, but he kept his poise, it was a very mature start for him today with great stuff."

Cruz came into Saturday's game with some favorable history against Lester, registering .458/.519/1.000 totals in 24 at-bats, but he came up empty Saturday, thwarted four times by Lester's deceitful movement -- including a called third strike on a four-seamer away in the third.

As Lester's pitch count climbed, he mixed in his curveball, ringing up two of his seven K's on breaking balls that dropped off the plate. His final strikeout of the night came on a 77 mph curve to Caleb Joseph, who golfed at the ball as it dropped far enough below the zone that Ross had to block it.

"I feel good. Fastball command has been pretty good," Lester said. "I feel like I have gotten the consistency back with my cutter, which has been helpful at times, especially on righties. All in all, I am moving the ball around pretty good. Keeping it down, keeping the ball on the ground.

"The base hits today, a couple of them were on the ground, a couple of them just got over the infielder's heads. I'll take that all day."

Since the beginning of June, Lester has gone 4-1 in seven starts with an ERA of 1.65, striking out 39 batters in 49 innings and allowing just eight walks. He posted an ERA of 1.98 for the month of June, his best full month in nearly four years, and that has led to discussion about possible inclusion on the All-Star Game roster.

But the bigger topic might be the one nobody wants to talk about right now. After turning down a reported four-year, $70 million extension this past offseason, contract talks have loomed over his head as he seeks a big payday.

"I really can't imagine the pressure of that along with the pressure of just trying to pitch your game and help your team win," Jonny Gomes noted. "If there's a book to be written, he's definitely writing about how to deal with it."

Not that Lester's getting rattled about it.

"Judging by today, I don't think it was much of a distraction," he scoffed.

BOSTON -- Fittingly enough, the Boston Red Sox's most outspoken patriot came up clutch on the Fourth of July weekend.

Jonny Gomes came on to pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and on the third pitch of his at-bat against Baltimore Orioles reliever T.J. McFarland, Gomes slapped one to the left side of the infield, sprinting down the first-base line to beat the throw from short by a step.

David Ross' sacrifice moved Gomes to second, and then pinch hitter Jonathan Herrera came through with the heroics on the next at-bat. Facing a 1-0 count, the switch-hitting Herrera took McFarland's two-seamer opposite field into right-center. Gomes dove across home plate as Adam Jones' throw home wasn't in time.

Jonny on the spot: This one will go down as a no-decision for Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, but he continued his run of strong starts with a terrific outing this afternoon. Working both sides of the plate, Lester gave up five hits in eight innings of work, striking out seven, walking none and allowing two unearned runs. He threw 118 pitches, 83 of them for strikes.

Lester has had some mixed history with two of Baltimore's most-feared power hitters. Entering Saturday, Nelson Cruz was a career .458/.519/1.000 in 24 at-bats against Lester, while Chris Davis was a paltry .111/.172/.296 in 27 at-bats with nine strikeouts.

Davis continued his woes, fanning twice to end up 3-for-30 for his career against Lester. But most impressive was Lester's battles with Cruz, who ranks among the major league leaders in home runs and RBIs. Cruz finished 0-for-4 against Lester. In the top of the first, Lester jammed Cruz with a 3-2 four-seamer inside for a soft 5-3 putout.

In the third, he got Cruz looking at a four-seamer away. He went away again in the sixth, getting him to chase at a four-seamer that went opposite field but died near the warning track in right. In the eighth, Cruz grounded into a pretty 6-4-3 double play turned by Stephen Drew.

More timely hitting woes: The Sox plated two runs off of six hits in the first two innings, then were left helpless for the next four as they went cold, going down in order four straight times before a two-out Jackie Bradley Jr. single in the bottom of the seventh broke the slump. Most glaring was A.J. Pierzynski, who took the designated-hitter role in place of David Ortiz. All four of his at-bats ended in popouts, three of them in foul territory; after the fourth one, he received a loud chorus of boos from the Fenway crowd.

Koji time: Koji Uehara came up crucial in the ninth inning, the 10th time this year he's entered the game with a tied score, mowing down the meat of Baltimore's order in succession. After ringing up Adam Jones to lead off, he whiffed Davis on a two-seamer for his third strikeout of the day, then he jammed Hardy with a splitter for a 6-3 groundout to end the game.

Bogaerts' slump continues: Has Xander Bogaerts hit the dreaded rookie wall? Things appear that way after the promising youngster had another forgettable day at the plate and on the field. With today's 0-for-4 performance at the plate, he has now gone hitless in 27 straight at-bats. Most notably, he came up empty in the bottom of the eighth. After Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia advanced on a wild pitch, Bogaerts stared at a called third strike. In the field, he made an egregious error from third base, booting a 5-3 attempt to allow two Orioles runners to score.

Drew puts on a show: You weren't dreaming. Yes, that was Stephen Drew and his .147 batting average going deep today off of Miguel Gonzalez for his first homer of the year. Drew led off the bottom of the second inning by turning on Gonzalez's first pitch, a 93 mph two-seamer, and planting it in the visitor's bullpen behind right field. For Drew, it was his first homer since Game 6 of last year's World Series, when his solo shot helped clinch Boston's third title in 10 years.

On the defensive side, Drew turned a sweet double play. Chasing a Cruz grounder up the middle, Drew slid to his left and flipped the ball to Pedroia, who fired to first to end the top of the eighth inning.
John Lackey, Jon Lester Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Sox hope John Lackey and Jon Lester can shut down the Orioles in Saturday's doubleheader.
BOSTON -- Saturday's forecast calls for no rain, with partial clouds and wind in the afternoon, and with it the Red Sox are hoping they can right the ship once again after one of the most disappointing series of the season.

The Sox returned Monday from a 10-game road trip in which they went 4-6 and promptly got swept by one of the worst teams in baseball, the last-place Chicago Cubs of the National League Central. Nothing seemed to go Boston's way, whether it was having to break up a no-hit bid by Jake Arrieta in Game 1, or stranding 10 runners in a 2-1 loss in Game 2, or just completely blowing up in Game 3, allowing 19 hits in a 16-9 loss to complete the sweep.

And suddenly, any momentum gained from last weekend's series at Yankee Stadium is gone, and the Sox are back at square one, falling nine games under .500 for the first time since May 25. That game, an 8-5 loss to Tampa Bay, was their season-worst 10th straight loss at the time, marred even further by a bench-clearing brawl after Yunel Escobar stole third uncontested with a six-run lead.

Following that loss, of course, the Sox reeled off a memorable seven-game win streak, so perhaps there is hope yet. Either way, some are right to wonder whether the last few days are the low point of the season.

Manager John Farrell is sticking to the weekend's lineup of starting pitchers after Friday's rainout. The Sox will send their top two pitchers to the mound Saturday, with Jon Lester (9-7, 2.92 ERA) taking the ball in Game 1 and John Lackey (9-5, 3.62) in the nightcap.

In the season series, the two teams are split at 5-5. Orioles cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz, who ranks second in MLB in RBIs (68) and is tied for first in homers (26), has historically had a good chunk off success against both of Saturday's pitchers -- particularly Lester, against whom Cruz has registered .458/.519/1.000 totals with three homers in 27 career at-bats.

The Sox come into the series not as desperate for offense as it appears -- they totaled 24 hits in their last two games -- but definitely in need of a jolt. David Ortiz has 4 RBIs in his last seven games, including a three-run jack against the Yankees, but otherwise he is 4-for-21 over that span. On the other hand, Dustin Pedroia has been heating up of late, going 12-for-24 in his last six games with five RBIs.

Olney thinks Red Sox blew it on Lester

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
3:32
PM ET
The Red Sox tried to re-engage Jon Lester in contract talks, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported over the weekend, but it looks to be a case of too little, too late.

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“I think the Red Sox blew this,” Olney said Wednesday in an interview on ESPN Radio. “I think the contract talks are basically all but over before Lester becomes a free agent in the fall.”

In Olney’s opinion, the Red Sox had an opportunity to lock up Lester long term in the spring but instead just muddied the waters with an offer that was well below market value.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, including some in his clubhouse, who believe that at some point the Red Sox had gone to him in spring training and said ‘Look, let’s do a 5-year deal for something in the range of $100-110 million,’ that probably would have gotten done at that point,” Olney said.

“Let’s put that in context. Jon Lester was tremendous down the stretch last year, he’s now having one of the best seasons, if not the best season, of his career, and if he goes into free agency he is going to be one of the most prominent free agents, along with Max Scherzer.

“The Red Sox, instead of taking a middle-of-the-road type deal, they wind up offering him 4 years and $70 million in the spring, way below what Homer Bailey wound up getting from the Cincinnati Reds, closer to what Edwin Jackson got.

“Now the Red Sox the last couple of weeks have been trying to throw another offer at Lester, but I think from his side, their camp is more of the mind of ‘You know what, we’re not close. Let’s not talk during the year, Lester doesn’t want the distraction’ and they’re ready to move on and I don’t know how the Red Sox replace him going into 2015.”

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