The Red Sox have always believed in Jon Lester. That is precisely why they wouldn't pull the trigger on a proposed trade for the then Minnesota ace. The Sox may not have predicted a no-hitter from the young lefty, but they expected great things nonetheless. After all, he'd just pitched the Game 4 clincher in the 2007 World Series.
When the Sox selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft, they hoped he'd be something special. And when his career took off like a rocket in 2006, going 7-2 in 15 starts, he looked special indeed. Then, when he started 2007 by going 4-0, he looked like a wunderkind.
But there have always been concerns; the lack of accuracy, leading to all too many walks and high pitch counts. Lester has typically been at 100 pitches, and done for the night by the fifth inning. Yet the Sox saw something they liked, and they still believed.
Then came the cancer diagnosis and the life-threatening drama that followed. Suddenly baseball seemed small and insignificant. At that point, all the Red Sox really hoped was that he'd survive and be well. But Lester did more than just survive; he's flourished.
Now 3-2, with a 3.41 ERA, Lester has shown flashes of brilliance this season -- even before last night. On April 29th, against Toronto, Lester out-dueled the great Roy Halladay, throwing eight innings of one-hit, six strikeout baseball.
But Lester's season, much like his brief career, has been marked by inconsistency. Less than a month ago, his ERA was 5.40. Two starts ago, it was still over 4.00.
Through it all, there was the belief that Lester was something special. And the Red Sox were not alone. After their ALCS defeat at the hands of the Sox last season, the Indians had an organizational meeting in which the consensus was that, after Josh Becket, Lester was the best pitcher on the Red Sox staff. That seems prescient now.
The no-hitter, the masterpiece that all pitchers covet, has eluded some of the best to ever play the game. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens never did it. Nor has four-time winner Greg Maddux, or three-time winner Pedro Martinez, among others. In fact, of the 59 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, only 31 have pitched complete game no-hitters.
In 108 years of club history, there have only been 18 no-hitters thrown by Red Sox pitchers. To get a sense of how rare the feat is, at one point 33 years lapsed between Sox no-hitters, and at another point 27 years passed between such brilliant performances. Before Lester, the last Red Sox lefty to pitch a no-hitter was the greatest Sox lefty of them all, Mel Parnell. That amazing performance was delivered on April 14, 1956 - 52 years ago.
But in this decade, no-hitters have suddenly been occurring at a more regular pace for the Sox. Hideo Nomo and Derek Lowe pitched no-hitters in 2001 and 2002, respectively. And then, of course, just eight months ago, Clay Buchholz in only his second career start, accomplished the feat. Now we can add Jon Lester to the list.
His remarkable performance last night is a stunning addition to his remarkable story. We should consider how many chapters have yet to be written. Lester is only 24 years old. In a decade, he'll still be considered to be in his prime. One can only imagine what he can accomplish.
A no-hitter in just his 37th career start, a World Series clincher, and a sparkling 14-4 career record can only make us wonder in amazement, and watch with great hope.
With Lester, Becket, Matsuzaka, and Buchholz all so young and talented, the future looks bright for years to come for the Red Sox.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.