The Red Sox were looking for an ace performance in Game 1 of the World Series, and Jon Lester delivered Wednesday night, allowing no runs while striking out eight in 7 2/3 innings.
"He's been doing it all year," said Mike Napoli. "He's a big time pitcher. We have all the confidence in the world when he's out there throwing the baseball."
Working with catcher David Ross, Lester received plenty of run support early and settled into a groove. He threw 10 of 12 pitches for strikes in the first inning and threw 35 pitches through the first three innings.
"We know how aggressive they can be at times," said Lester. "And late in the game they tried to slow some things down and take some pitches after that. So we wanted to set the tone and get them swinging. That's important for my game as far as getting that fastball and cutter involved, and make sure that they're not able to just lock in and key on certain areas on me."
There was potential for trouble in the 4th inning when Lester loaded the bases, but the lefthander induced David Freese into a comebacker to the mound, which the Sox turned into a 1-2-3 double-play. Lester threw 112 pitches; the eight strikeouts were a playoff career high.
Recently, Lester has been on a roll with battery mate David Ross.
"The last probably six times Jon has gone to the mound, David has caught him," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "They've really developed, I think, a really good rapport. Their ability to read swings and make some adjustments from at‑bat to at‑bat or each time through the lineup. And we did it in the two games that Jon pitched against Detroit. So everything right now would point to that same tandem."
Lester agreed with his manager.
"For whatever reason right now me and Rossy are clicking," said Lester. "That's nothing against what Salty does behind the plate, and we've had plenty of good games together. So for whatever reason it is, things are just working out right now."
In five career postseason Game 1 starts Lester has an ERA of 1.56, walking 10 batters while striking out 31. In two World Series starts he has not allowed a run.
Momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, and the Sox have already used their most reliable one. Still, Farrell said the tone of the series was set with a win in Game 1.
"Whether we view this as three different series inside of one -- a two game set here, three over there, and possibly two back here -- always getting that first one out of the way is a good feeling, to continue to try and build some momentum," said Farrell. "I thought we played a very good game all the way around tonight."
Farrell also chimed in on reversal of an out call in the first inning that loaded the bases for Napoli, who promptly cleared them with a double.
"From the dugout view I thought it was pretty clear that ball tipped off the fingertips of his glove," said Farrell. "We're fully accepting the neighborhood play, but my view is it wasn't even that. There was no entry into the glove with the ball. And to their credit they did confer. The one thing is we just strive to get the call correct. Based on their group conversation, surprisingly to a certain extent, they overturned it and I think got the call right."
On how often his argument with an umpire usually works, Farrell said, "I can't say it's too often."