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Losing Ellsbury Hurt Red Sox, Losing Lester Will Be Far Worse

Kids, just wait until Jon Lester jumps ship.

Some good news. Boston, or more precisely Roxbury, is guaranteed at least one champion in 2014.

Shabazz Napier, he of Roxbury and the NCAA champion UConn Huskies, threw out the first pitch before the Red Sox lost 9-3 to the Yankees Tuesday at Fenway Park. It was the first and last time a pitcher wearing a Red Sox hat walked off the mound without New York having a lead.

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Centerfielder Jacoby Ell$bury inspired a chorus of boos before his first Fenway Park at-bat as a member of the Yankees. He triggered a torrent of profanity throughout Red Sox Nation all night. Ellsbury began the game with a triple that would have been an inside-the-park home run if it not for an overeager Bruins fan in the centerfield bleachers. It was Boston's best defensive play of the night east of Hockeytown. Many in the NESN-Plus audience would eventually bail to watch the Bruins dominate Detroit 3-0.

Ellsbury's leadoff triple in the first and 10 other hits by the Yankees came at the expense of Lester, who fell to 2-3 with the loss. On the upside for Lester, he and Ellsbury could be teammates again next season, especially if the Yankees can rid themselves of some or most of the $61 million they still owe Alex Rodriguez.

Ellsbury received a nice round of appreciative applause when he was featured in a highlight video and his face appeared on the center-field screen. He had two hits [his other was a double], scored two runs and robbed Grady Sizemore of extra bases in the bottom of the first before Dustin Pedroia's double. Pedroia never scored and an early chance to rattle Masahiro Tanaka fizzled.

No matter what Lester did or didn't do Tuesday night, there's a disturbing notion that has become almost a given fact. The Red Sox - it has been written - don't have to put up serious money to keep Lester beyond this season. And this is a good thing - it has been said. Apologies for missing the memo distributed to State Run and Free Media that Lester must not be retained after this season by the Red Sox for anything that approaches "market value."

The "hometown discount" - it has been determined - must be at least 50 percent for anything to be deemed acceptable. The Red Sox reportedly presented Lester with a laughable, four-year, $70 million offer. They must have him confused with J.D. Drew.

"Don't trust anyone over 30" was the mantra of the 1960s campus free-speech movement. While "campus free-speech" has become as antiquated as the 1960s themselves, Sabermetric Nation has taken Jack Weinberg's famous quote and made it their own motto. Lester is 30. Therefore, he is finished and not worth any sizable long-term investment. .

Even after five more efforts like Tuesday night's performance, one can rattle off three or four teams that will offer Lester something approaching the seven-year, $155 million contract that the Yankees gave Tanaka to lure him [culturally] Westward from Japan. The seven-year, $153 million package the Phillies bestowed on Cole Hamels is another benchmark. Atop the short list of would-be suitors: the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Compton and Southern California and the Atlanta Braves. Expect them all to place a pile of money at Lester's door this offseason.

Not expected to be stacking Benjamins at Lester's feet are the Red Sox. Before the Yankees bombarded Lester for eight runs and 11 hits in 4.2 innings Tuesday, Rho Epsilon Delta House president John Farrell spoke about how Lester has successfully "compartmentalized" the issues surrounding his contract and his performance. One must wonder if Farrell is obliged to bring the snacks for the next team sleepover.

One horrid night against the Yankees isn't going to cause Lester any long-term physical, mental or financial damage. Remember, he is a cancer survivor. Issues like baseball contract talks that won't start in earnest for six months probably don't cost him much sleep. Questionable calls are another story. Lester still thinks he can somehow mind force umpires to change calls with a long stare. It won't happen.

Farrell's remarks were also a nifty back-handed swipe at David Ortiz, who spent a considerable amount of February and early March lobbying in the press for his $16 million, Second-Annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tuesday was terribly forgettable for the Red Sox and Lester. Starting with Ellsbury's triple - that Trader [and yes we know the difference between "trader" and "traitor" - Lester was pitching as if he was running backward up Heartbreak Hill all night. Only three of the runs he allowed were earned, but he was extremely hittable and lacked the movement which usually leads to victory. The Yankees swung at nearly everything he offered, striking out seven times and hitting into a pair of double plays when the game was still close. But Mike Napoli's two-out error in the fifth finished Lester's night, and put the Yankees up 7-2.

O-v-a.

What should not be over is Lester's career with the Red Sox after this season. Lester became the ace of Boston's staff by default last year. He enhanced his status as Boston's Other Mr. October with another masterful postseason in 2013, going 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 34.1 innings. My favorite Lester stat is this one: He is one two pitchers in the history of the Red Sox with more than three World Series starts and ERA of less than 1.00. [0.43] The other is Babe Ruth [0.87]. Things didn't work out so well when Babe left town, either. Any financial excess directed toward Lester would be due to the fact he approaches near perfection whenever he pitches in a World Series game. In 21 World Series innings, he's allowed just one run and struck out 18 batters.

If all five starters in the Red Sox rotation were free-agents after this season, Lester would be at the top of anyone's must-retain list. Without Lester, the real world 2015 Red Sox will have Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, possibly Brandon Workman and maybe the next great thing in Henry Owens as starting pitchers. Thinking the Duck Boats will be saving plenty of gas with that rotation. Sure, there will be other free-agents available, and trades do happen. But if the Red Sox do bring in another "ace," even for short money, the difference between what they would pay any Mystery Savior and what they would pay Lester at "market value" will likely end up being less than $6-7 million per year. Jake Peavy is making $14.5 million this season, something the Red Sox knew would happen when they picked him up at the trade deadline last year.

So one can hope the Red Sox will be able to stitch together a series of would-be Lesters year-by-year for the next five or six seasons after 2014. Spending at least $15-$16 million a year in the process. Or they can just keep the original. The difference will likely end up being about $35 million over that span. That's not much more than the Red Sox saved this year by not having to pay Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster this year [about $27 million], plus interest.

The 2015 Red Sox will come into sharper focus a lot sooner than any of us expected if the 2014 Red Sox allow this early-season malaise to become a permanent state of affairs. It's very early, only 21 games, but the 9-12 Red Sox remain in last place, 3.5 games behind New York. Far more troubling is that the Red Sox have already lost four of five to the Yankees this season, being outscored 25-14. Last year, Boston was 13-6 against New York and topped the Yankees by a whopping 120-85 combined score.

We're not in 2013 anymore. The only certainty is that these Red Sox, even though they are in the A.L. East basement, cannot come close to their 2012 counterparts. That is unless Farrell trades his heart and mind with Bobby Valentine.

The Red Sox may not repeat as World Series champions this year. But that's no reason they should give up on spending what it takes to keep Lester beyond 2014. A serious effort to keep him must be made. Otherwise, it may make losing Ellsbury feel like the good old days.

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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