Revived Lester strikes again
He dominates by keeping it simple
PHILADELPHIA - Jon Lester reduces his brilliance into a simple couple of words. "It sounds easy, it sounds dumb, but really, just trying to execute pitches," he said, as if anyone can dominate one of the game's best lineups and strike out 11 with mere fundamentals and pluck.
Jon Lester steamrolled the Phillies during his seven innings of the Red Sox' 5-2, 13-inning victory last night, doing everything he could except guarantee a win sans drama. Lester allowed two hits to lead off the second, and a run came home. After that, the Phillies may have well carried toothpicks into the batter's box. Of the final 19 batters Lester faced, he walked one and retired 18, 10 by strikeout.
In total, Lester allowed two hits and two walks while striking out 11 for the second straight game. Lester's performance was a work of art - and simply another turn on the mound.
Lester's booming number of strikeouts, he said, owes to his ability to laser fastballs over the outside edge of the plate. That opens up the entire strike zone, and hitters have no idea what's coming or where it's going - a 97-mile-per-hour fastball outside, then a curveball that drops off a table. It's called mastery.
So when Lester dived back into his rationale - "I'm going to continue to go out there and pitch." - David Ortiz, standing at the locker next to Lester, kept him honest.
"Tell them the truth," Ortiz said. "You're going to continue to kick [butt]."
"What he said," Lester said, cracking a smile that was almost menacing.
The early days of Lester's season, when his ERA soared, seem awfully far away now. So do the days when observers fretted about Lester's stamina or the wear and tear of last season, when he threw 237 innings on his way to becoming a bona fide ace.
"I felt strong as I do right now on Day 1," he said. "Strength hasn't been the problem or conditioning or whatever you want to call it."
Some pointed to the Verducci Effect, so named after the Sports Illustrated writer. Verducci compiled a list of pitchers who suffer regressions because of wear. Pitchers coming off a season in which they had thrown 30 or more innings than the previous season, Verducci argued with convincing statistical ammunition, were prime candidates to falter the next season. Lester, at an increase of 83 innings last year over 2007, headlined the list.
"I don't believe in those charts," Lester said. "Those guys don't play baseball. Those guys are sitting in a room doing computers. They don't understand the work you put on in the weight room, the work you put in your shoulder program in offseason training.
"I've never believed in that stuff, the whole guys sitting in a room trying to figure out how good you're trying to be. They're not out there. They're not executing pitches."
No one in baseball, perhaps, has executed them like Lester the past two starts. In 16 innings, he has allowed four hits and struck out 22. Last night, he hit one rough stretch.
In the second, Raul Ibanez singled and Shane Victorino doubled him to third. Jason Varitek pointed out that "I was coming out of my delivery," Lester said. He was trying to throw perfect pitches but by rushing his motion was losing control of his curveball. Ibanez scored on a ground out, but that was it for the Phillies.
After the second, Lester fell into a frightening rhythm. He struck out the side in the fourth and the fifth, six straight strikeouts. He overpowered the Phillies until he fired his 111th and final pitch, which he used to strike out Pedro Feliz swinging.
"I made some adjustments," Lester said. "One pitch at a time, executing pitches. I keep saying that, but it's really the focus."