Commentary

Jon Lester ready to move on

Red Sox lefty relieved to put worst season of career behind him

Updated: October 3, 2012, 2:32 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- What else, really, did you expect him to say?

"I'm glad it's over," Jon Lester said.

Tuesday night ended the way too many other nights ended for the Boston Red Sox left-hander this season, without a "W" next to his name.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Elsa/Getty ImagesJon Lester, being visited by pitching coach Randy Niemann, finished the season with career worsts in wins, ERA and strikeouts per nine innings.

Lester gave up just one unearned run to the New York Yankees in five innings before leaving with a back spasm and was in line for a victory until closer Andrew Bailey gave back a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning. Three innings later, the Red Sox were shuffling off the field with their 92nd loss and were assured of just their second last-place finish in the past 80 years. They finished last in 1992. Before that, 1932.

The Sox have lost seven in a row. They have won one game since Sept. 19, while losing 11. They have managed to trump last September's 7-20 collapse, going 7-21 with a game to go. They are 16-41 since Aug. 1. That's a winning percentage of .281. At that pace, they would have won 45 games all season, while losing 117.

The manager, Bobby Valentine, is expected to be fired after Wednesday's season finale, probably by the end of the week. The owners have been ridiculed, the general manager maligned, the sellout streak mocked, the marquee players traded.

"It's been a long year for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons," Lester said. "Like I said, I'm glad it's over. Move on. It's over for me. I'm going into a much-needed offseason. Regroup, come back in spring training, be ready to kick some people's asses and go from there."

If only it was that simple. The Red Sox have now missed the playoffs three straight seasons, and the slide might just be accelerating. This team is beset with questions, not the least of which is how to improve its starting pitching. With one game left, the starters have a collective ERA of 5.15. Only the dreadful Indians, Twins and Rockies were worse.

Lester finishes his season with a 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA. The wins are his fewest since he began taking a regular turn in the rotation in 2008. The ERA is the highest. The rate of strikeouts per nine innings (7.27) is a low.

Lester could take a measure of satisfaction in his 33 starts and 205 1/3 innings, both staff highs. Pitching 200 innings is a goal he sets each spring.

"I did what I could," he said. "I took the ball every five days, threw as many innings as I could, and the rest just didn't fall into place. I go into a season thinking that all I can control is how many times I take the ball, how many innings I throw.

"Usually, five out of six years it takes care of itself. I'll take those odds, come back next year and go with the same goal and get right back up on the hill and do it again.

"I'll say the same thing to you all the first day [next spring]. My goal is to throw 200 innings. That's all I can control. Baseball is a funny sport. You can make the perfect pitch in the perfect location at the perfect time and a guy can get a hit and they score a run. That's how it is."

There is truth in what Lester says, of course, but only up to a point. Beyond that, he risks coming across as sounding like his shortcomings were all a result of being a victim of circumstance. That won't fly. He's more accountable than that. He's proven that. Times when he needed to execute pitches, remain unruffled by a bad call or a misplay behind him, reach down and summon the will that held him in good stead in better days.

There was a definite carryover effect from last September's collapse, one that would have ended had the Sox gotten off to a good start. The opposite occurred, and the cohesiveness that the Atlanta Braves showed in recovering from a similar collapse last September never developed. There were too many disconnects, including the firing of pitching coach Bob McClure, Boston's third pitching coach in three seasons. Lester was not immune to the impact, and neither was the precise calibration of confidence and focus required to win consistently.

The Red Sox, and Lester, both require an environment more conducive to winning. Will they find it? Even Lester wonders, in the aftermath of August's megatrade with the Dodgers.

"It was surprising," he said, "but it was something needed on their [management's] part. Just like they have our backs, we have their backs. It was their decision to make, and we have to support them. Going into the offseason, they have to support us and produce another good team.

"We all believe they will. Everyone in this room, if they're back, will be prepared in spring training to go out with the same goal we've had since I've been here: win a World Series. Anything less than that is obviously a failure."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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