“Starting 9” of Jon Lester’s Career
While the Sox may be in hibernation, there is one piece of notable news in the Boston baseball world. Jan. 7 is Jon Lester’s 28th birthday. Lester’s story is truly amazing; one moment he is undergoing chemotherapy, and the next, he is the undisputed ace of the Red Sox staff. In the theme of baseball, I have chosen my “Top 9” favorite career highlights of Lester’s (written in chronological order) in honor of his birthday.
No. 1: Lester’s first career win
Lester’s first career win came on June 16, 2006, against the Atlanta Braves. Lester was fresh off of his first start and loss of the season. The big lefty was not phased though, as he tossed six innings to hold Atlanta to one run. Through six, Lester threw 93 pitches, accruing five strikeouts and three walks.
No. 2: Lester’s first 10-strikeout game
Following his first win, Lester overpowered the Washington Nationals lineup on June 21, 2006. Lester lasted six innings, throwing 107 pitches while striking out 10 and walking two. Starts like these would quickly become typical of Lester’s spectacular career.
No. 3: Lester wins Game 4 of the 2007 World Series
Possibly Lester’s greatest career achievement: in 2007 he pitched the Sox to a World Series championship, his first and thus far only trip to the fall classic in his career. Lester shut down the Colorado Rockies lineup, throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to hand the Sox their first World Series Championship since 2004.
No. 4: Jon Lester’s No-Hitter
On May 19, 2008, Jon Lester went the distance versus the Kansas City Royals and pitched his way to a no-hitter. Lester threw 130 pitches in the victory and racked up nine strikeouts. It was a miraculous moment for the 24-year-old Lester, because despite all he had been through, he still never gave up on his dream of becoming an elite pitcher. Manager Terry Francona was just as happy for Jon, as Lester recalled following the no-no.
“He said he was proud of me,” Lester said. “We’ve been through a lot the last couple of years, and he’s been like a second dad to me. It’s just a special moment right there”
No. 5: Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS
In the same season as his no-hitter, Lester pitched the Sox through the 2008 playoffs. Even though he lost Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS versus the Rays, it will remain one of my favorite games. The Sox were down in the series 3-0 before rallying back to tie it with three straight wins. Lester was dominant as ever versus the Rays pitcher James Shields. Lester threw 107 pitches over seven innings, striking out eight while giving up three runs in the loss. It was a series that everyone in Boston gave up on, but the Sox proved their worth to the fans and fought to the very last inning. Lester showed his mental toughness in that game, and it would serve him well as his career continued.
No. 6: Lester’s fantastic 2010 season
In 2010, Lester emerged as a dominant pitcher. Lester went 19-9 that season, throwing 208 innings while striking out 225. What’s more amazing though is his incredible second half, featuring a six-game win streak at the end of the season. His 20-win bid was cut short though, as he lost to the Chicago White Sox in his last start of the season. In 2010 Lester went from a so-so pitcher and a feel good story to a dominant lefty who could be counted on in a big game. Lester showed that he is just as good as anyone and that his past health issues have no effect on his future success.
No. 7: Opening Day 2012
There was very little to be excited about in this past 2012 season, but few remember how promising the start was. Lester had finally earned his spot at the top of the rotation and squared off against Justin Verlander, the Cy Young winner from 2011, on Opening Day of the 2012 season. Lester threw seven innings, only giving up one run in the loss. If it weren’t for closer Alfredo Aceves‘ first of many meltdowns later in the game, the Sox could have won, but that is a different story. Lester traditionally starts off slow; in his 2011 Opening Day start versus the Rangers, he was roughed up, lasting only five innings while giving up five runs in the loss. For Lester to come out of the gate as dominant as he was gave hope to Sox fans early in 2012.
No. 8: NVRQT
Early in the 2012 season, Jon Lester founded the NVRQT campaign to raise money for pediatric cancer research. The name stands for “never quit” and Lester has used it to bring aid and relief to kids with cancer so that they do not have to endure what he did early in his career.
No. 9: Reuniting with Jon Farrell
Many people were happy when John Farrell replaced Bobby Valentine as the new Sox manager, but it’s possible none were as happy as Jon Lester. Farrell shaped Lester’s career and never doubted his ability even though Lester’s early career was less than brilliant. Under John Farrell’s watch Lester came back in 2007 to pitch in the World Series and continued to grow from then on. Having Farrell back in command could be a huge relief to Lester, who struggled in the 2012 season. Hopefully Lester can find his comfort zone and pitch like he did when he was at his best in 2013 and onward.
Lester’s career is hard to define in nine bullet points, there are so many great achievements and honors that he has received that I could go on forever. These are my “Top 9” moments from Lester’s career. What are yours?