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Lester can empathize with Arizona's Davis

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 10, 2008

Jon Lester probably understood what Doug Davis, the courageous Arizona Diamondbacks lefthander, felt as he walked off the mound Tuesday night to a standing ovation at Chase Field.

Davis was facing what Lester and Mike Lowell and other cancer survivors have.

Lester and Lowell will tell you that one of the scariest feelings imaginable is when treatments begin because you have no idea what to expect, how you will handle the side effects, and, more important, whether the treatments will work.

"I was a coach in Texas when Dougie was on the team," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "When you know somebody and they're going through that, it really hits home. It's like I felt when we got the word on Lester. You're around someone and then you hear bad news like that, your heart just goes out to him. What Doug has done - made his last two starts before he undergoes cancer surgery [today] - when I heard that, I just went, 'Wow, what an amazing thing that is.' To say the least, I'm praying for him. I wish him good health."

It was ironic that on the eve of Davis's surgery for thyroid cancer, Lester was standing tall on the mound at Fenway Park against the Tigers. Lester, whose record fell to 1-2 in the 7-2 loss, is proof that the disease can be beaten and that you can come back to resume your life and career. He looks bigger and stronger than ever.

Davis will have the gland removed from his neck and then undergo radiation iodine therapy. It's a pill that will sap Davis's energy and ideally kill the cancer.

"No chemo," Davis told reporters after he went six innings in a 10-5 win over the Dodgers. "After I take the pill, six months later I'll have another CAT scan. That'll be in the offseason. And that will tell me whether the radiation killed all of it or not."

Davis is looking at best-case scenarios. Diamondbacks officials said the pitcher has been optimistic about his situation. He hopes to return against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field May 9.

Afflicted in 2006, Lester had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which was treated differently than Davis's condition. Lester had six heavy doses of chemotherapy, which sapped his energy. The Red Sox handled him very cautiously for most of the first half of last season before letting him loose. He won the Game 4 World Series clincher against Colorado. In the offseason, the Red Sox resisted temptations to include him in a deal for Johan Santana, feeling he could be their version of Andy Pettitte.

"I've read about it in the papers, and who wouldn't be sympathetic to what he's going through?" said Lester. "I haven't contacted him or anything, but anything I can do to help, I'd be more than happy to talk to him and lend whatever help to him I can while he's going through this."

The Diamondbacks certainly would like Davis to come back in 4-6 weeks, but at this point they just hope he recovers.

The thyroid controls how quickly the body burns energy and makes proteins, both very important to a professional athlete. Davis will need medication to replace the thyroid's functions.

"I know that everybody in this clubhouse is pulling for him," said Tigers lefthander Kenny Rogers, a teammate of Davis in Texas. "I haven't talked to Doug personally, but I know the situation he's in. If anyone can beat this, Doug can. He's a fighter. He's a strong person. The fact he went out there and pitched was amazing to me. I heard about that and I think if that doesn't touch you, you're not a human being. I know a lot of guys are pulling for him. Our prayers are with him."

Players in the Sox clubhouse are also rallying around Davis.

"I just missed him as a teammate in Arizona, but just reading the story and what he's going through and still going out there is remarkable to me," said Javier Lopez. "He's a fellow player. When someone is sick like that, players rally around players."

Bryan Corey said, "To know you have cancer and still take the mound like he did, that's courage. I think it's the last thing most people would feel like doing, but maybe he finds refuge on the field. Maybe it's his way of relieving whatever stress he has over this."

The Diamondbacks are close to getting Randy Johnson back in the rotation, which should help alleviate the loss of Davis on the mound. With Davis, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Micah Owings, and Johnson, the Diamondbacks have one of the strongest rotations in baseball. Now they'll have to endure Davis's absence.

"That's the last thing anyone worries about," said Francona. "Not having him on the field is tough, but this is a much bigger issue for Doug and his family."

Davis was touched by the reaction of everyone around baseball. He shared a private moment with Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent in the outfield.

"He just said, 'Best of luck to you and God bless,' " Davis said. "It was emotional, very emotional. I tried to stay strong. I didn't want to come in crying or anything like that. It was nice to have support out there, not only from the fans but from my teammates. Everybody's been real positive with me. I got it from Gary Bennett when I was up at bat. I got it from all the umpires. It just feels like baseball is not only team-oriented, but a whole family within the game."

That was the sentiment among the Red Sox and Tigers. Some knew Davis and others didn't. But it didn't matter.

Lester provided living proof that things can turn out fine.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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