Commentary

Lester at ease pitching in big games

Updated: October 6, 2008, 6:24 PM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- When Jon Lester arrives at the ballpark Monday afternoon, he'll put on his iPod, listen to music at his locker and prepare like he normally does every four days: with absolute focus, a diligence to his routine and a respect and understanding for the situation he's facing.

Lester has done this before, of course, and he'll be asked to do it again Monday night when the Red Sox try once more to clinch a trip to the American League Championship Series, after they failed to do so on Sunday when the Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings to extend this ALDS at least another day.

Lester will go to a comfortable place -- the mound at Fenway Park, where he went 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA this season, which included a no-hitter May 19 against Kansas City. In fact, the Red Sox haven't lost a game at home in which Lester has started since April 23, against -- you guessed it -- the Los Angeles Angels. The last time Lester was the losing pitcher at home? That was April 9 against Detroit.

In that April 23 start against the Angels, Lester, who walked away with a no-decision that day, gave up four runs, and his ERA soared to 5.40. It's fair to say a lot has changed since then.

"I guess I'm just comfortable here," Lester said.

Then the left-hander talked about what it feels like pitching in games that are more magnified.

"I think it's just that you've got that extra edge," Lester said. "That little extra intensity of the game. … I guess that puts you on your toes a little bit more."

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It would seem so. It's hard to believe Lester is only 24 years old. His story has been written for some time now, though it is still evolving; he came back after beating cancer and won the clinching game of the World Series last year, then threw a no-hitter this year. With Josh Beckett not available to pitch until Game 3 because of an injury, the Red Sox gave the Game 1 start not to 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka, but to Lester, who permitted a lone run over seven innings in the win. And now he's back, in a clinching game, and his teammates are buoyed with the knowledge that he is headed to the mound for Game 4. How could they not be?

"He's been through a lot, but he's a competitor," said reliever Manny Delcarmen, who played with Lester in the minors. "I'm pretty sure he's excited to get the ball [Monday]."

After initially downplaying the outing, saying that Lester just needed to throw a "quality start," catcher Jason Varitek conceded that Lester has found a knack for performing in some of the more important moments. Varitek also added that there is a curve with Lester.

"He's still learning," Varitek said. "He's had to battle a lot in his life, period. I think the game is a little smaller than it may seem when you have to go through the life-changing things he's had to go through."

Indeed. Not only has Lester endured cancer, but his father was diagnosed with it, too. A baseball game -- no matter its importance to the masses here -- pales in comparison. That doesn't mean, however, that Lester won't attack the situation.

"It seems like the bigger the situation, the better he is," backup catcher David Ross said. "As young as [he] is, he dang sure don't pitch like it when he's on the mound."

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJon Lester pitching the clinching game of the World Series a year ago. On Monday, he hopes to pitch the clinching game of the Red Sox's ALDS against the Angels.

And that's the beauty of Lester, and part of the reason his presence out there Monday night will put his teammates at ease. His mindset won't be to save a tired bullpen, either.

"I think he's more concerned about executing his game plan," said Javier Lopez, who gave up the game-winning hit to Erick Aybar in the 12th inning in Game 3. "And if he does that, it'll take him deep into the ballgame."

In an interview with a pool reporter after the game, Lester said as much.

"I just have to worry about my pitches," he said. "I can't worry about us going back to L.A. or the bullpen situation. I just have to worry about going out and executing my pitches.

"You can't worry about what you can't control."

If anyone on this team can speak that gospel, it's Lester. And on Monday night, all Jon Lester will worry about is making sure he's got his music and his routine. The rest will fall into place.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.

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