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Friday, July 9, 2010
Sox stay focused on themselves

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

TORONTO -- Don't think for one second that the Texas Rangers' acquisition of left-handed ace Cliff Lee will affect the Boston Red Sox. At least from a mental standpoint.

While the Sox were preparing for their first of three games against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday afternoon at Rogers Centre, reports began to surface that the New York Yankees were on the verge of getting Lee in a trade from the Seattle Mariners.

The Yankees saw an opportunity and wanted to take full advantage of the situation, meaning if New York did land Lee, it would have been a chance to put some much-needed distance between themselves and the injury-riddled Red Sox in the A.L. East standings.

Before it was learned that the Texas Rangers, and not the Yankees, landed one of the best pitchers in baseball, Red Sox players weren't too concerned about Lee and his landing spot.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona and the players were not aware about the possibility of Lee wearing pinstripes when asked for reaction.

"Didn't even know," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Until he's there, and we face him, is when I'll worry about it. I'm not really worried about Cliff Lee right now." "Yankees? Those reports are always right, too," Youkilis added with a bit of sarcasm. "Those trades are always right and those reports are always right, so I guess he's going to be on the Yankees. We'll have to face him and try to beat him."

Even Red Sox starter John Lackey had no idea what was going on.

"Honestly, we just need to get our own people healthy right now," he said. "We're not worried about other people right now. He's obviously a great pitcher, but we have other things to worry about than that."

The Red Sox are concerned with one thing, and one thing only -- the Red Sox.

With only three games remaining until the All-Star break and Boston coming off a three-game sweep by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox needed a big game. They needed to continue to prove to themselves they can remain resilient until the club's disabled list has a clean slate and the regulars are back in the lineup.

Enter Jon Lester.

For all the talk about Lee and what it means for the rest of the American League now that he's with a contender, Lester has been the ace of the Sox's staff for the last two-and-a-half seasons and he continues to be dominant. The southpaw improved to 11-3 this season, working six innings and allowing only two runs on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts to help Boston to a 14-3 thrashing over the Blue Jays.

Almost every time the Red Sox have needed a solid outing, Lester has delivered. It's to a point now that he knows a certain question is coming after each of his starts, and he'll even begin to dismiss it by shaking his head even before the reporter is done asking about his ability to lead this club when it's needed most.

"I'm not worried about that, I'm just trying to pitch my game," Lester said. "I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win."

It may sound like blah-blah-blah Nuke Laloosh-style clichés, but it's that mentality that allows Lester to be consistent over the long haul.

"I don't think it matters where we play. If we lose, it's not good regardless of who we're playing or where we're playing. It's nice to come out with a win tonight and hopefully we can continue to pitch and swing the bats the way we did tonight."

Not only does the ace of the staff give the entire team confidence every time he toes the rubber, the Red Sox know if they can give Lester a cushion, he'll do the rest.

There's also a good chance Lester could be the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star game Tuesday in Anaheim. "He's been great all year long," said Red Sox utility man Bill Hall, who had a season-high four RBIs on Friday night. "I've said this before: He definitely should be the starter in the All-Star game because he's pitched that well and been that dominant. He deserves it. He's been great for us."

When Lester learned of his first All-Star selection last Sunday at Fenway Park, he acknowledged it would be an honor to represent the Red Sox, but first he had to worry about his next start against the Blue Jays.

After he successfully accomplished that, he gladly talked about pitching in the All-Star game.

"It'll be a lot of fun. I'm excited, I'm ready to go," Lester said. "I really don't know what it'll be like emotions-wise because I have never done it, but it'll be a lot of fun."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.