BOSTON -- This is exactly what Red Sox manager John Farrell expected out of Jon Lester.
The lefty threw seven innings of one-run ball on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, and his presence set the tone in a 2-1 extra-innings walk-off win against David Price and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Lester did not factor into the decision for the first time in three starts this season. But a no-decision isn't a loss. In fact, on Saturday it was far from it, as he lowered his ERA to 1.42 in 19 innings.
"I think we fully expected Jon to get back to the levels that he's pitched before," said Farrell after Saturday's win. "We stated in the offseason that he's healthy, he's got good stuff, there's no reason he shouldn't get back to that performance level. And he's doing that."
And he's doing it against other teams' aces. First it was a win against C.C. Sabathia on opening day in New York. Then it was a dominating win over R.A. Dickey in Toronto. And on Saturday, he went toe-to-toe with Price.
"You know going into the game who you're pitching against," said Lester after Saturday's win. "The biggest thing is, you can't worry about that. You can't worry about, 'We got Price, or Sabathia, whoever it may be.' You start worrying about the pitcher, you're worrying about the wrong things. Obviously in the back of your mind, you know, 'Hey, I've got to keep these guys close, give them a chance to maybe put a big inning together against him.'"
Lester has done a great job of controlling what he can control, and that's taking care of the lineup he faces every fifth night, not who's pitching for the other team. As Farrell pointed out on Saturday, "He's very much under control."
Lester was under control against the Rays, but had a hiccup in the top of the third inning, when Sean Rodriguez drove in the game's first run on an RBI double down the left-field line, scoring Desmond Jennings from first, as the ball took a funny hop on Daniel Nava in the corner.
Following that RBI double which put the Rays up 1-0, Lester retired 12 straight batters until he allowed a Yunel Escobar single to lead off the seventh inning. That would be the last hit Lester would allow in the game, as he finished the seventh inning having thrown 100 pitches while allowing five hits, walking one batter, and striking out a handful.
Lester finished strong because of adjustments he made after allowing the run in the third.
"He started to use his arm side of the plate a little bit more, where right-handers were looking in quite a bit, looking to turn on him," said Farrell. "I thought he got back downhill in those four-through-seventh innings and used pitches away from the right-hander a little bit more frequently. Once again, an outstanding performance on his part."
"We had to make an adjustment, as far as getting the ball down, and changing speeds," said Lester. "Obviously they're a very good fastball-hitting team. We weren't able to get the ball down in the zone as much as we would have liked early on. We were able to do that a little bit later.
"The main thing is, just keeping the ball down," added Lester. "It all comes back to that. And if I execute my pitches, it keeps the ball down, which I was able to do, you'll have better results."
Lester's catcher on Saturday -- David Ross -- noted adjustments in Lester's posture, which helped him keep the ball down.
"I think his posture is one of his keys. But sometimes it just depends on what the team's approach is. And I thought what he really did a good job of was recognize their approach, which was, they're going to look hard and they were on anything hard, middle-in especially. So, he did a good job of throwing strike one away and then giving them that changeup off of that. Then they didn't know what to look for when we started pitching them in. I think his posture is definitely key throughout with him, especially early on. And getting that ball down is definitely key. But he can pitch up there at times, later in the counts. But I think for him, they key recognition was him -- he shook me a couple times with those changeups, and I realized how much confidence he had in it."
And we're now seeing why the Red Sox had so much confidence in Lester returning to form in 2013.