BOSTON -- It seemed strange that David Ross would go out to the mound to visit Jon Lester just before the start of the fifth inning.
Normally those types of visits happen during an inning, not before. And typically they're used in order to initiate some kind of damage control, but that couldn't have been the case. To that point Lester had only faced three hitters over the minimum and he hadn't allowed a run.
Ross' visit came immediately after the Red Sox scored three in the top of the fourth inning, giving Lester a six-run lead, and its purpose was to help emphasize Lester that which the pitcher already knew.
"I wanted to tell him not to let off," Ross said. "I think that's the key. Not to be complacent and give up sloppy runs. If you can step on their necks so to speak after an inning where you score six, teams tend to fold."
Lester did anything but let off for the remainder of his start. He tossed four more innings after chatting with his backstop and struck out eight in the Red Sox' 6-0 victory over Kansas City to complete a three-game sweep.
"That's the hardest part about pitching is you can't turn off," Lester said. "You can't turn that switch off. You gotta go, you gotta keep going, you gotta keep attacking. [If you don't] that's where you get into trouble.
"You could get a four, five, six-run lead and all of a sudden it's second and third and no outs. Three-run homer and they're right back in it. You gotta keep attacking. Keep getting after it and making sure the momentum stays on your side and those guys back in the dugout as quick as you can."
Against an aggressive, fastball-hitting team Lester really never ran into trouble throughout his 115-pitch outing. Helped by an infield defense that made a couple of specatcular plays -- highlighted by Stephen Drew's diving stop to start a 6-4-3 double-play in the eighth -- Lester only allowed two hitters to reach second base.
Put simply, Lester is in the middle of one of the best stretches of his career: He's allowed just one run in his last 31 innings; he's struck out at least seven in each of his last three starts; and while he walked two on Sunday, those were his first two free passes in his last three outings.
"As he’s been for a majority of the season," Farrell said. "Through the month here he’s been outstanding. Eight shutout innings here again today. I think the difference today might have been the ability to change speeds with his breaking ball. He threw a lot of strikes to both sides of the plate with his fastball. Again, he was able to add and subtract to his breaking ball, particularly the cutter. And then his curveball the last three starts has probably been the best stretch in quite some time."
That Lester has performed the way he has with contract talks looming over his head has made it all the more impressive for his manager.
“I think he’s been a model for others to witness as players get to that stage of their career," Farrell said. "He’s been able to handle it in a professional manner. He’s been very forthright in not wanting it to be a distraction to his teammates or us as a team. And he’s been able to go out and maintain that high level of focus."
Farrell added: “For those who see Jon the days in between starts as much as the day he takes the mound, it’s a very driven, very focused person. I’m not surprised by the way he’s handled this.”
Lester knows the chatter about his future will continue throughout the second half, but he said he's "not worried about it."
"I don't pay attention to what's said about me off the field," he explained. "Just try to make sure I go out there and pitch well for these guys in here. If these guys are happy with what I'm throwing and how I'm going about my business, then that's all I care about.
"I've said in the past, this stuff will take care of itself when the right time comes. I'm worried about my opportunity every five days and doing my job for these guys in there. Hopefully we can get to the top of the [American League] East and get back into the playoffs."
Without him, they wouldn't have a chance.