|Jacoby Ellsbury's diving catch in the fourth inning will be remembered as the signature defensive play on a special night. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
It was the top of the fourth inning, and Jon Lester was pitching to Kansas City designated hitter Jose Guillen with two outs.
Guillen hit a ball to center field that was dropping fast and appeared destined to be a base hit - but speedy Jacoby Ellsbury raced in and made a diving catch that ended the inning. It was a terrific play, but Ellsbury wouldn't realize just how important it was until Lester struck out Alberto Callaspo to end the ninth and complete his no-hitter last night at Fenway Park.
Lester's 7-0 gem was the second no-hitter by a Sox pitcher in nine months. Clay Buchholz hurled one against the Orioles at Fenway Sept. 1, 2007, in just his second major league start - one that was supposed to last just six innings. It was the first no-hitter by a Sox lefthander since Mel Parnell July 14, 1956.
"After the catch, I realized he had a no-hitter going," said Ellsbury. "I was just thinking, 'Go get it.' J.D. [Drew], I knew he was backing me up there, so in that situation, I can lay out and go for it, knowing he's going to back me up.
"When I look back at it, I'm really happy I made that catch. You don't want to be that one play that costs a no-hitter."
Buchholz said the situation was different when he was pitching his no-hitter, because his workload was supposed to be no more than six innings. But manager Terry Francona let him keep going.
"The pressure for me wasn't in the ninth," Buchholz said. "It was after they told me that I was throwing six innings that day, to give them a good six innings and I'd be done.
"I sat down on the bench and nobody came to talk to me after the sixth inning. I looked up on the scoreboard and that's when I saw it and I was like, 'Oh, God, here we go.'
"[Lester] looked a little nervous going out for the ninth, but after the first batter [Esteban German], he walked him, I saw him take a deep breath and he went back to work and did what he had to do."
Buchholz can appreciate what Lester was going through, although he admits his magic night seems like a big blur to him. He thought Lester handled his well.
"It was awesome," Buchholz said. "They don't come very easy. That was a grind for him, 130 pitches. He hung tough and he got through it and he did something that not a lot of people do.
"You get that adrenaline running through your body in those last three innings, knowing those are going to be the toughest outs in the game because they've seen you two or three times going through the order. He was tough.
"It was unbelievable, and it was a great job by him."
In the nerves department, Buchholz said it's harder to watch than it is to play.
"I had more time to sit down and think about it," he said. "I went out just trying to throw strikes and get guys to swing and get outs. That was his main thing tonight, to get outs and throw pitches in the zone and get some swings out of it. He went out and did his job and got rewarded for it."
Sox starter Josh Beckett said the key to Lester's success was staying ahead of hitters virtually the entire game.
"Two of his first three pitches were generally strikes," said Beckett. "It's like divine intervention. I know it's been two years since the whole cancer thing, but to watch something like that . . .
"I know he kind of had that last year, winning the final game of the World Series, but this is another feat, more of a personal one than maybe winning a World Series.
"It's great. He's always had the talent and now it's starting to show."
Beckett said the tension in the dugout for the latter part of the game was palpable.
"I don't know how in the hell he can be more nervous than I am," said Beckett. "I'm sure everyone else on the bench was feeling the same way. It makes me want to puke, how nervous I am.
"I can't imagine going out there. I think I had a no-hitter in the first one time. I haven't ever really taken one that deep.
"Me and some of the guys were kind of joking about it. Do we stand up? Do we sit down? What are we supposed to do? If we're eating a candy bar and he has a no-hitter, do we keep eating candy bars?"
Beckett said he could sense Buchholz's nervousness, too, because he didn't move for four innings.
"He was like, 'Could someone hand me some [sunflower] seeds?' " said Beckett. "It's awesome. It's a fun thing to watch. It's a game within the game."
Nancy L. Marrapese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org