<
>

Armstrong congratulates Lester on Monday's no-hitter

5/21/2008 - MLB Jon Lester Boston Red Sox + more

BOSTON -- Jon Lester just wants to be treated as a normal pitcher.

That was tough when he had cancer. It became harder when he won the deciding game of the World Series. Then, on Monday night, the Red Sox lefty pitched the only no-hitter in the majors so far this season.

But he could have been known as the pitcher who was traded for Johan Santana.

"I'm real happy I'm here," Lester said Tuesday after a restless night and plenty of text messages. "I'm glad it didn't happen. But if it did happen, you're part of a trade for the best pitcher in baseball. It's not a bad thing to be in."

All of the well-wishers weren't aunts and uncles. Lester was congratulated by Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong in an interview with ESPN that included the pitcher.

"On behalf of all cancer survivors around the world and the United States, we want to congratulate you," Armstrong said.

Armstrong did not see the game. He said that he received word when he landed in Europe that Lester, whom he has spoken to previously, accomplished the feat.

Armstrong holds up Lester as a role model for survivors.

"Nobody wants to live with fear [of cancer] in their life and obviously Jon is a hero when it comes to that," he said.

After his health concerns, it makes sense that Lester wouldn't be that concerned about a baseball trade.

The 24-year-old lefty was the centerpiece of offseason talks between Boston and Minnesota. Santana eventually went to the New York Mets and Lester ended up starting the second game of the season in Tokyo against the Oakland A's.

That's the next team he'll pitch against, on Sunday in Oakland, and that's the game he's focusing on.

"In six days, I want to be treated like anybody else," Lester said. "I just want to go out there and pitch and, hopefully, pitch well against the A's and move on and pitch against the next opponent."

For now, the repercussions of his gem in a 7-0 win over the Kansas City Royals continue.

The Hall of Fame was given a game-used baseball, Lester's cleats, and the catching equipment of Jason Varitek, who caught his major league-record fourth no-hitter.

Lester chatted with Armstrong. He even was asked at a news conference about Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor Tuesday.

"Obviously, my prayers are with him and his family and hopefully everything turns out all right," Lester said. "Fight it and try to get back to as normal as you can."

Lester missed the end of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and started only 11 games in 2007.

But he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the fourth game of the World Series when Boston completed a four-game sweep of Colorado.

Aaron Cook, who started against Lester in that game, also came back from a serious health problem. He had surgery in 2004 to remove a rib that was pressing against a vein and causing life-threatening blood clots. Last season he was the Rockies' Opening Day starter and this season he was 6-2 with a 2.82 ERA going into Tuesday's start.

"It's not always easy to get over a life-threatening anything and making it back to be pitch as an elite pitcher in the big leagues. That's very impressive what he was able to do," Cook said after learning of Monday's no-hitter.

"He's got great stuff. He's got confidence, and he just goes out there attacks the hitters, and I think that's the main thing to be successful in the big leagues, trusting your stuff and going after guys."

Lester and Derek Lowe are the only pitchers in Red Sox history to pitch a no-hitter and win a World Series clincher.

"All this stuff comes from being on the right team. I mean, pitching games that clinch World Series," said Lowe, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "As far as no-hitters go, they're almost impossible to explain."

Lester pitched his with an overpowering fastball, his hardest since 2005, he said.

He also got into a quicker tempo between pitches. He's been working with pitching coach John Farrell to do that rather than take too much time analyzing each pitch before throwing again, a problem that "takes a lot out of the fielders," who aren't as well prepared as they would be with a quicker pace, Lester said.

"It's changed my game a lot," he said. "It's helped me take a lot of bad thoughts out of my head in between pitches."

Lester is 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA this season. But in his last five starts, he's 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA. On Monday, he allowed just two runners on walks and struck out nine, including Albert Callaspo to end the game. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s.

"He was throwing 95 [mph] a couple of years ago before the sickness," Farrell said. "It looks like it's back."

Lester usually has trouble sleeping after he pitches, and the excitement of his no-hitter added to that. He spoke with his parents. His mother, Kathie, watched the game on her computer at home. His father, John, who gets nervous when his son pitches, spent part of the game in his garage.

Francona got Lester's dad's phone number from Jon but dialed a wrong number.

"I was congratulating somebody that had no idea what I was talking about," Francona said. "I'm just jumping right into the conversation. I could tell, boy this guy's not being very friendly. … I realized I wrote a 7 instead of a 9."

Lester's phone will get less use as the days go on and the congratulatory calls stop.

And that's just fine with a special pitcher who longs for normalcy.

"I just wanted to be a normal guy and go out there and pitch and get criticized for my pitching," he said, "and not, 'oh, he had cancer so we'll go easy on him.'"

Francona has no intention of doing that.

"We kind of had our enjoyment and we really truly do move on," he said before Tuesday's game against the Royals. "I saw him in the [dugout] tunnel and said, 'You're going to the weight room, right?' Yep. That's what we do and I think that's how you are good."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.