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Pitchers had their way

Lester barely got better of Bannister

By Ben Collins
Globe Correspondent / July 11, 2009
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In the visiting locker room at Fenway Park, Brian Bannister wasn’t trying to grip the hows and whys of last night’s 1-0 loss to the Red Sox. Sometimes he paused during his interviews to guffaw.

There have been dozens of this type of defeat in the 24 years since the Royals last made the playoffs. Bannister is one of several tantalizing prospects to come through the system, giving the franchise a glimmer of glory should potential be reached.

Last night his stuff finally came together. And Bannister still lost to a better pitcher.

“The intensity of the fans and the history of this ballpark? Every pitch I threw tonight was fun, and it got more fun as the game went on,’’ said Bannister. “I gave us a chance to win. They came through. But I gave them everything I had tonight.’’

For every ounce of gall Bannister showed, Jon Lester had more of it. Lester had eight strikeouts, leaving batters shaking their heads through eight innings. His last K was against Ryan Freel, with mostly heat.

Since his no-hitter against the Royals last year, he hasn’t allowed them a run at Fenway. That’s four starts, 25 innings in a row. He didn’t know this.

After last night’s game, he had little to say about it. No patterns, no superlatives. Just a shutout in the middle of a pretty nice run.

“I’m not more confident against them than any other team,’’ Lester said. “I’m the same against a high school team, the Yankees, the Royals - it doesn’t matter.’’

Even after allowing just four hits and two walks, Lester said he’s pitched better during his recent run of domination - eight straight starts in which he hasn’t allowed more than three runs.

“I think there are times where I’ve had better command,’’ he said. “But when I needed to make a pitch I was able to do that.’’

And if this was one of the best pitching duels of the year, he said he wouldn’t know. He shows up to every duel with the same weapon, whether the other guy is armed to the teeth or not.

“I’m no more focused than any other time,’’ he said. “You’ve still got to bear down and make pitches regardless of what that guy on the other side is doing.’’

Bannister’s fastball topped out at 88 miles per hour. On his best days, scouts say he looks like Greg Maddux. Last night, he was Maddux-like for 7 2/3 innings, and he left the game knowing he wouldn’t get a win.

“Everything I’ve worked for, the last two years for this team - before this, I wasn’t capable of pitching a game like that,’’ said Bannister, 28. “The pitches I’ve developed, the way I’ve matured as a pitcher - I went neck and neck with a pretty good pitcher who has a pretty good history against us, and I gave us a chance to win.’’

Maybe last night was the start in which he figured out how to use all of those breaking pitches, how to be a star without a fastball, how to stay in the toughest games against the toughest pitchers in the toughest parks in baseball. Maybe it was the game Bannister figured it all out.

And the guy he lost to has already forgotten all about it.

Ben Collins can be reached at bcollins@globe.com

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