BOSTON -- Each spring training, Jon Lester sets just one personal goal for the season. It has nothing to do with wins, or ERA or strikeouts.
It's all about innings -- 200 of them, preferrably.
On Saturday, en route to a 5-1 Red Sox victory over the New York Yankees, Lester managed to top his milestone, getting to the 200-inning plateau for the fifth time in six full seasons.
"Above and beyond (the 200 innings),'' said John Farrell, "it's been outstanding innings pitched. I think every starter goes into each season thinking 200 innings is a minimum that you'd like to get to. It
proves you've put in the work, you've been consistent and you've stayed healthy.''
To put Lester's achievement into perspective, only one lefty in Red Sox history has had more 200-inning seasons (six): Mel Parnell.
"That's the one goal that I set every year for myself,'' said Lester, "'to make every start than I can and throw 200 innings. When you're on a good team like this, the rest takes care of itself. That's really all you can control is innings. So it's something I take pride in and the thing I work toward every year.''
Facing the Yankees for the second time in the last six days, Lester was sharp from the beginning. He retired the first nine hitters in order before a Curtis Granderson triple and a Robinson Cano groundout led to a run for the Yankees in the fourth.
But after issuing a two-out walk to Alex Rodriguez after the Cano groundout, Lester got locked back in, retiring 11 of the next 13 hitters he faced. When he was done after eighth innings, he had allowed just five baserunners -- three hits and two walks.
The start gave the Red Sox another series win, and for Lester, extended a fantastic second half. Since July 13, Lester has fashioned a 2.53 ERA, with quality starts in 12 of his 13 outings.
The Red Sox gave Lester some time to recover coming out of the break, and that decision has paid off handsomely. On Saturday, his fastball was consistently in the mid-90s, which helped to augment his cut fastball.
"It's not uncommon for power pitchers,'' said Farrell, "to really hit their stride in the second half of the season. He's an example of that. His delivery becomes that much more efficient and he repeats it more consistently, and with that rhythm comes power.''
Lester and catcher David Ross decided to take an aggressive approach against the Yankee lineup in an effort to get some quick outs early in the count and propel Lester deep into the game.
For the second straight start, Lester completed eight innings against the Yankees as he improved to 14-8.
Gone is the frustration that Lester felt in late May and June, when his cutter lost its effectiveness, his velocity dipped and Lester found himself getting too easily frustrated.
"It's more about him having confidence in his pitches,'' offered Farrell. "That's what reduces the frustration with him and allows him to not carry the previous pitch into the next one.''
Ross, with whom Lester seems to have built a unqiue chemistry, appreciates Lester's accountability on the mound, but finds that the lefty can sometimes be his own worst enemy.
"In spring training,'' said Ross, "I heard some stories about being down on himself for not carrying the load last season (when Lester posted career highs in ERA and losses). When you put that much pressure on yourself, nobody can live up to that. I actually try to keep him calm. Sometimes, he gives up a hit and he thinks it's the end of the world.
"When he stays focused, keeps calm and executes pitches, he does a really good job.''
Lester leads the Red Sox in innings pitched, wins and strikeouts, and is in the discussion to pitch the first Red Sox playoff game since 2009.
That's in the future. But Saturday, with the Sox streaking and headed toward clinching their first division title since 2007, was a time to take stock in what's already been accomplished: a spring training goal reached that just happens to bode well for the fall.