Although Jon Lester did not emerge as the winning pitcher in the Boston Red Sox's 8-6 victory over the Yankees Saturday night, he did reach a milestone that serves as a reminder to just how good he's been in the past—and could be again.
Lester's final strikeout of the game, a whiff of dangerous Robinson Cano in the bottom of the sixth inning, gave the struggling hurler 1,000 strikeouts in his career. Just six Red Sox pitchers have reached this mark, and Lester is only the second left-hander after Bruce Hurst. Another 44 and he'll be No. 1 among all Boston lefties.
It's easy to forget just how impressive Lester's career numbers were before last September's meltdown, which has extended through all of this season, but here are a few samples:
Lester needed just 1,084 innings to reach 1,000 strikeouts. His average of nearly a strikeout an inning is second in team history to Pedro Martinez, and ahead of Roger Clemens.
Lester's .691 career winning percentage entering this year was the second-best in club annals (behind Pedro) among pitchers with 100 or more decisions.
Lester's postseason ERA as a starter is 2.35 over six games, including the clinching win of the 2007 World Series. Hurst (at 2.29) is the only pitcher in the post-1920 era who has done better among Red Sox starters with 30-plus playoff innings.
Yes, none of this eliminates the problems Lester has struggled with this season, and in fact one can argue these numbers only make what's happening now more frustrating. Even this game, in which the Red Sox scored three times in the sixth to stake Lester to a 6-1 lead, then watched him promptly give back all three runs in the bottom of the frame, was not close to what Big Jon has done in the past.
It was, however, a whole lot better than the four-inning, 11-run debacle Lester had against Toronto, and although the Yanks did get three homers off the lefty, they only had one other hit (and two walks) against him over six innings. He also had six strikeouts.
It wasn't very pretty, and it wasn't even enough for Lester's sixth win of the season thanks to some shoddy relief work from Vicente Padilla. But it was a victory, and right now that's what is most important to the Red Sox and their erstwhile ace.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @saulwizz.