By Sean McAdam
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The announcement had a distinct anticlimactic bent to it, but it nonetheless made official what had been suspected for some time -- Jon Lester, Terry Francona acknowledged Wednesday morning, is the team's choice to start the Red Sox' season opener in Arlington, Texas.
Francona, who had dodged the question since soon after camp opened, admitted that he had made up his mind on the assignment over the winter. He had contacted Lester in the offseason to inform him of his decision -- "I think I was in a deerstand when he texted me," said Lester -- but asked the left-hander to keep the news to himself for a while.
"I don't think that's any surprise," said Francona in revealing his choice to reporters. "He's known for quite a while. I just haven't had a chance to talk to everybody on the staff yet, so, after Lester, we'll just kind of go day-by-day."
"I think he deserved it. I think he's one of the elite pitchers in the game. It seems like Lester's been our most consistent pitcher."
Lester was happy with the news, but took it in stride.
"Obviously, it's a big honor," he said. "Growing up, that's kind of who you want to be. But like I've said in the past, Opening Day is nice, but playoffs are more important. It's something that I'm honored to be named that, but it's still a work in progress.''
The honor is the first for Lester. Josh Beckett started the last two season openers and Daisuke Matsuzaka was the choice in Tokyo when Beckett was left behind in Fort Myers with a back strain.
"I don't think this is any big revelation," said Francona of the decision. "I just think he's been pretty good."
Lester was the choice to open the 2008 and 2009 ALDS when Beckett had injury issues, but selecting him to open the regular season with Beckett available represents something of a passing of the torch.
"I don't want to put too much emphasis on this," said Francona of the honor, "because I'm actually just about as excited about who we have at two, three and four out there, too. But I think Lester deserves this. I think he kind of has that stature in the game now where other teams probably look at him as No. 1.
"It's a big honor, which I understand. But other than that, once we start the season, it kind of goes by the wayside."
Lester has won 50 games over the last three seasons, easily the most on the Red Sox staff and has topped the 200-inning plateau each time.
Beckett, who is coming off his worst season in the big leagues, had publicly backed Lester as the logical choice to get the ball. Others on the staff concurred.
"That doesn't surprise me," said Francona of the support. "I would expect nothing less."
"If any of the other four guys had been named Opening Daystarter, it wouldn't hurt my feelings," said Lester. "The talent and the experiencethat we have in this rotation -- flip a coin. Anybody is worthy andanybody would be sure to be ready to take the ball on Opening Day.''