By Sean McAdam
BALTIMORE - In a season which turns four weeks old Friday, very little has gone as planned for the Red Sox.
Already, they've have made two changes in their starting lineup. Two-thirds of the outfield was demoted in the batting order. And their most trustworthy reliever, Daniel Bard, is tied for the team lead in losses.
For that matter, few players have met expectations. There's been Dustin Pedroia, his recent 1-for-20 skid notwithstanding. And Jon Lester.
Even Lester's opening month has not been without its surprises. After breezing through eight innings and allowing two runs on just four hits on Thursday night in a 6-2 win over Baltimore, he casually shrugged off questions about his career-long dominance of the Orioles (14-0, 2.33 in 17 starts).
It was some time before someone mentioned Lester had just completed his final outing in April and made it through the month relatively unscathed. At the mention of this, Lester, ordinarily proudly stoic in the post-game interviews, allowed himself the slightest of smiles.
Until this year, Lester's career April record of 3-6 with an ERA of 4.76 was the lone blemish on Lester's first four seasons. The same pitcher with the second-best winning percentage (.709) since 1900 could not for the life of him put it together in the first month.
Lester could never articulate what had plagued him in the early weeks of each season. For that matter, neither he nor the club ever seemed particularly concerned. Instead, his chronic poor Aprils were tolerated, accepted - like cold weather and built-in off-days - as part of the early season landscape.
Each season, Terry Francona would predict that Lester would eventually find his rhythm and go on one of his patented, dominant runs, stretches that would invariably find Lester with 17 or so wins at the end of the season. And each season Lester would, in time, do just that.
It's just that, this year, Lester found himself much earlier. Though he got a no-decision for his efforts, he threw seven shutout innings in his second start.
Three more quality starts followed. After a rough outing on Opening Day, Lester has since allowed six runs over his last 34 innings for a 1.58 ERA.
Lester was asked the significance of his better-than-usual April.
"It means I don't have an uphill battle," he said. "But with that being said, if I had started out the same way as years past, I wouldn't have lost any sleep over it just because I know that eventually would turn around.
"I wish I had an answer for why in years past it's been that way and why this year's different. But I don't know. I didn't change anything."
Still, the Red Sox won't argue with his success. The explanations and theories don't, in the end, matter much.
So little has been predictable in the first four weeks, the Sox will gladly take Lester's atypically strong start and not ask any questions.