Lester Makes Remarkable Comeback, Throws No-Hitter

Kevin RyderCorrespondent IMay 19, 2008

There aren’t too many times, especially in this day and age, when an accomplishment by an athlete transcends sports. But that is exactly what happened Monday night at Fenway Park as the Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals, 7-0.

Jon Lester became the first left-handed pitcher to toss a no-hitter for the Red Sox since Mel Parnell in 1956. He allowed just three runners to reach base, two via walks. He was never seriously challenged, and was still hitting 95 miles-per-hour on the stadium radar gun in the ninth inning.

It was the second no-hitter in eight months for the Red Sox, as Clay Buchholz accomplished the feat in September.

But none of that is the real story. It was all about Lester, who missed the last two months of the 2006 season. And it isn’t that he just overcame any injury to return to the starting rotation for the Red Sox. He overcame cancer, the big "C" word, the disease that takes away too many lives much too early.

Back in the summer of 2006, Lester was heading to Fenway to prepare for a start against the New York Yankees. On his way to the park, while trying to navigate the always treacherous downtown Boston traffic, Lester was rear-ended, almost a daily occurrence in Boston.

As he got to Fenway, Lester complained of some pain in his neck from the whiplash suffered in the car accident. Days later, everyone found out the traffic accident was far from the worst news for Lester, as he was diagnosed with cancer.

He immediately went into treatment, and, being in Boston, was around the best doctors to help combat cancer there are in the country. Over time, the Red Sox were able to release news that the cancer was in remission.

After recovering at his family home in Washington state, Lester reported to spring training in February, 2007, ready to show the Sox he could contribute. Erring on the side of caution, the Red Sox decided to move slowly with their promising young pitcher. He started the season in extended spring training, then went on to Single-A Greenville for a few starts.

Once he was pronounced ready, he moved up the Red Sox organizational ladder, through to Triple-A Pawtucket, the last stop before Fenway Park. He pitched in a number of games for the PawSox (who play less than an hour from Boston), showing improvement each outing.

Then, in the heat of the summer, he got the call from the Sox. They were summoning him back to the big leagues to make his triumphant return. He did so in Cleveland, against the Indians, on national television (ESPN) and in front of his parents, who flew in for the game.

He pitched extremely well for a youngster, never mind someone who had overcome cancer. He got the win, and many felt the comeback was complete.

Then came the playoffs. Lester pitched in Game 4 of the World Series in Colorado. The Sox were already ahead in the series, 3-0, looking to wrap up the title. He sewed up the second title in four years for the Red Sox, baffling the Rockies for five and two-thirds innings, allowing just three hits and no runs.

Coming into this season, Lester was penciled into the starting rotation in the fourth spot, behind veterans Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. He pitched in the opening series in Japan. He had a pitching duel with Toronto ace Roy Halladay earlier in the year, going eight innings and allowing just one hit and no runs.

But Monday night was the topper. He kept the Royals off balance all night. He baffled big-time prospects Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. He allowed just one runner past first base, and that was after a walk in the ninth.

He threw the 18th no-hitter in club history and only the second by a Red Sox lefthander. Lester threw 130 pitches in recording the no-hitter, striking out Alberto Callaspo with his final pitch of the game.

But it was more than just a no-hitter, the first thrown this year in the big leagues. It was the story of a 24-year-old who survived cancer and battled all the way back, going on to achieve one of the pinnacle feats of his profession.

It was enough to bring a sellout crowd to its feet, and viewers at home to tears. Enough to have all of his teammates, coaches, trainers, assorted team personnel and the owners onto the field to greet Lester, one-by-one, with a pat on the back and a big bear hug.

For Jon Lester, he took it all in like a boy in a candy shop. He greeted each and every person. He waved to the crowd and did his media interviews.

All of it while reflecting on the journey that brought him back to the big leagues, back with his teammates in Boston, where he belongs.


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