Lester continues post-All Star break dominance

Lester continues post-All Star break dominance
September 4, 2013, 12:15 am
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BOSTON – Opposed by the pitcher with the most wins in the majors, the Red Sox needed Jon Lester to step up and match Tigers right-hander and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer Tuesday night at Fenway Park. Lester knew it.
“Given the circumstances of losing the first one to them [Monday], being a tight ballgame and [John Lackey] pitching so well, just wanted to come out and follow him,” Lester said.
The Sox lefty did just that. And more.
Lester bested Scherzer as the Sox beat the Tigers, 2-1. Lester went seven innings, giving up one run on eight hits with no walks and a season-high nine strikeouts to earn the win, improving to 13-8 lowering his ERA to 3.88. He threw 111 pitches, 81 strikes.
Scherzer took the loss, just his second of the season, falling to 19-2 with a 2.88 ERA. He went seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits and three walks with eight strikeouts and a hit batter.
“I think every game when you get down to this point in the season means something,” Lester said. “Obviously, we all know who we’re facing tonight and what he’s done this season.  He’s having a great year and obviously have a tough night with him. But I can’t worry about Max Scherzer. I got to worry about the other nine guys in the lineup, and just go out and try to keep them as close as I can.”
In his past six starts, Lester has compiled an ERA of 1.71, allowing 11 runs, eight earned, over 42 innings. He is 3-2 in those games, with quality starts in each outing, while the Sox are 3-3.
In his last 13 starts this season following a Sox loss, he has an ERA of 2.68. The Sox are 11-2 in those games, while Lester is 9-1. Over his last 10 starts, he has a 2.59 ERA.
"John was outstanding once again,” said manager John Farrell. “He's been our stopper all year, when you consider the number of games he's pitched after a loss.”
The lone run Lester allowed came in the second inning, when Jose Iglesias – who is rapidly becoming a nemesis for his former team – drove in Omar Infante with a two-out double. Tigers catcher Brayan Pena was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on the play, ending the inning, and the Tigers’ threat.
But perhaps the biggest threat Lester faced was in the fifth inning. With two outs, the bases loaded, and the Sox trailing, 1-0, Lester faced Miguel Cabrera. Although the Tigers slugger has been ailing, hampered by an abdominal strain, he is a threat in any situation. Lester got Cabrera to ground into a force out to shortstop Stephen Drew, ending a potential Detroit rally.
“We did a great job defensively to cut down that potential second run in the second inning for the third out,” Farrell said. “And then really the key to game was in the fifth inning with the bases loaded against Cabrera. [Lester] gets a ground ball out to finish off the inning.”
“Well, obviously I don’t want to be in that situation with him up,” Lester said. “But really the biggest thing right there is just not giving up four [runs]. Best hitter on the planet you’re trying to really minimize damage. Fell behind 2-0, threw him a good fastball 2-0, got to 2-1 and was able to get the cutter up on his hands for a groundball. So, obviously, that doesn’t happen to often with him. But I’ll take it.”
As will the Sox. This is the Jon Lester they have waited to see. And now, perhaps, need to see, as they head down the stretch and likely into the postseason.
"It's been great to see him post All-Star break the way he's thrown the ball,” Farrell said. “With the exception of that one game against Arizona [on Aug. 2, when he gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings]. I think everybody in our dugout every time he goes to the mound and that can be said for [John] Lackey, it's not to slight anybody, but Jon has stepped up in those games when we needed to get back on the winning track and he's done just that."
One reason has been the resurgence of Lester’s cutter, which over his career has been his bread-and-butter pitch, but which, for a time this season, eluded him.

“Over the last probably three, four starts his cutter has come back to where it was as we've seen a couple of years ago,” Farrell said.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Lester said. “I’m in a better spot right now as far as going down the [slope of the] mound, which puts me in a better position for that pitch. I think maybe taking a break from it for a little bit helped me, and not trying to pound my head against a wall with it. So, it’s been good -- I don’t know -- the last three or four or five starts. So, keep riding it out.”
The Red Sox will take that.