Commentary

Lester's poise sets him apart

He's quickly become one of game's top lefties

Updated: October 8, 2009, 4:31 PM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPNBoston.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When Paul Byrd is asked what impresses him most about Jon Lester, he doesn't list the pitcher's repertoire or that he has thrown a no-hitter, the traits usually associated with the successful young Red Sox left-hander.

Byrd, instead, said it's Lester's seamless transition into the league that impresses him the most.

"You get up here and you get acclimated, it [usually] takes you a year or two to get adjusted," Byrd says. "Well, Lester, he pitches like he's 35."

And that's a compliment. Lester, who will start Game 1 of the division series against the Angels on Thursday night, was just 22 when he was first called up, in 2006. But in between his call-up and winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, he battled cancer. Byrd says forget the no-hitter, forget his stuff, the composure of someone that young is what makes him agree with what Billy Wagner said last week: that Lester is the best young lefty in the game.

"I couldn't argue with him," Byrd says. "He's that good."

Lester will be the first left-hander to start the Red Sox's first playoff game two years in a row. He was chosen over postseason stalwart Josh Beckett. And he's only 25.

"I was surprised to be in this position," Lester said. "I'm thankful to be considered for Game 1. Josh has had a lot of success in the past. Hopefully, I won't let him down or the team down."

In seven career playoff appearances, Lester is 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA, and his ERA in his five postseason starts is 1.95. Last year in the ALDS, he didn't allow a run in 14 innings.

"He's a complete pitcher," manager Terry Francona said. "Big, strong kid that seems to be able to endure a lot of innings and stay strong while he's doing it. [His] poise is real good. That's why we're comfortable letting him pitch."

The Red Sox are also comfortable with his ability to get both righties and lefties out, and his mix of breaking ball, cutter and changeup.

"He pitches," Byrd said. "He commands his fastball in and out, he throws his breaking ball behind in the count, he throws it for strikes, he can throw a changeup -- those are the guys that last here for a long, long time."

For now, the Red Sox only need him to last through November.

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