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All-Star Game Means More to Lester Than it Does to Last-Place Red Sox

MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals


The defending World Champion Boston Red Sox woke up on Monday morning at the bottom of the A.L. East.

First-to-worst in 88 games.

Meanwhile, Jon Lester can celebrate his selection as the token member of the Red Sox on the 2014 All-Star team. Scott Cooper's place as the most pedestrian Red Sox All-Star of the past 25 years is secure.

American League manager John Farrell had a tough choice, at least according to Red Sox fans. Of the people who responded to our Boston.com poll on the matter posted Friday, 28 percent thought he should choose Koji Uehara and 25 percent went with Brock Holt. Lester finished third with 20 percent.

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Lester will likely be joined by Uehara, Boston's closer, Farrell said, if a Sunday starter opts not to pitch in the game two days later.

Farrell's choice of Lester is loaded with opportunity for speculation. Did he pick Lester just because he was the most-qualified member of the Red Sox? Did he pick Lester to give the American League a lefty against the likes of Chase Utley? Did he pick Lester as the next step in the Red Sox effort to re-sign Lester?

How about all of the above.

Lester sees it as a pretty big deal. That's the most important part in all of this.

"I think we all as kids dream about it. This is what you want to do as a kid. You watch the All-Star Games, you watch the playoffs on TV. You dream about one day hopefully being in that position," he said.

Lester will (or should) not start the game. Utley is the only left-handed batter in the National League starting lineup. There are plenty of left-handed hitters on the N.L. reserve squad, including household names like Freddie Freeman, Dee Gordon and Daniel Murphy. Lester's numbers are certainly All-Star worthy, especially since the start of June. He is 9-7 overall this season with a 2.73 ERA.He is 5-1 in his past six decisions and 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his past five starts.

He's hot, and players showing improvement heading into the All-Star Game always make attractive selections. The Red Sox are not hot. They are starting to crater. Boston is 10 games under .500 again, nine games behind first-place Baltimore, and a half-game behind fourth-place Tampa Bay. The Rays completed a 9-2 road trip Sunday night. The Red Sox haven't won nine games since Father's Day.

Farrell spoke about having an obligation to field the best possible team in order to give the American League team coveted home-field advantage in the World Series. That is an admirable sentiment. But he has no real requirement to assist Detroit, Oakland, or Baltimore against the Washington Nationals or Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series.

A year ago, the American League won 3-0. That All-Star victory gave the Red Sox an opportunity to win the World Series at home for the first time in 95 years. In 2004 and '07, the Red Sox benefited from home field in the World Series by winning the first two games at Fenway Park en route to four-game sweeps.

This year's All-Star Game means nothing to the Red Sox postseason plans because they won't have a postseason. Sorry, folks, it's not going to happen in 2014. (Not the first time we've written those words, by the way.) To put this season's futility in perspective, just go back two years. In 2012, yes that 2012, your Boston Red Sox and Bobby F. Valentine were 43-43 the All-Star break.

Team overlord Larry Lucchino gave us all a letter for the ages, urging the masses to "keep the faith."

"Our play on the field has at times tested the mettle of the faithful. It could be maddening one day, enthralling the next day," he wrote to season-ticket holders when the team was even in the standings.

What is he going to say if they happen to be in last place, 10 games out, and 12-games under .500?

Remember the "cheerful Cody Ross?" and so many others? Ross would fit in perfectly with this outfield. He's batting .228 with Arizona this season.

This year, the best these-as-of-Monday-morning-last-place Red Sox can do at the All-Star break is 46-49. A week ago today, the Red Sox were coming off a successful weekend series against the Yankees, taking two of three in the Bronx. Red Sox fans were buried in prose and chatter about how this team was poised to break out of its malaise. The last-place Cubs were coming to town, followed by a three-game series against Baltimore over Fourth of July weekend.

But there were no fireworks at Fenway on this holiday week. Hurricane Arthur, Chicago's Jake Arrieta, and the Orioles bullpen pretty much doused the Red Sox lineup.

Farrell's task next Tuesday will be to spend a few hours just trying to make sure everyone plays and leaves Minnesota happy. The rest of America will be trying to figure out just who these players are and when did they become All-Stars. And if you're sick of the Derek Jeter Retirement Tour, you might want to avoid the pregame and first 30 minutes of play.

David Ortiz will miss his first All-Star Game since 2009 this time. He lost his starting DH spot to Nelson Cruz. Jeter's retirement will suck all the oxygen out of Target Field next Tuesday. Yet it is Cruz who will have the most remarkable story of the night. He's gone from a 50-game PED-fueled exile to the American League starting All-Star lineup in about 10 months.

Farrell opted not to give Ortiz a reserve spot, even though it sounds like the decision not to play was really up to Ortiz.

"Me and John [Farrell] had a conversation. I'm a big fan of guys that have a really, really good first half making the All-Star Game. There are a couple of guys ahead of me this year at my position," the magnanimous Ortiz said. "I was like, 'I just don't feel like taking those guys' places.'"

Translation: "The game means nothing this year. I'm taking four days off."

Rest is important. Being a DH is hard work. There are no more off days before Boston's extended All-Star break. That's seven games in seven days. It can be tiring just writing that sentence. Thanks to Thursday's off day, Friday's rainout, and his daughter's graduation, Ortiz didn't play from Wednesday until Saturday night. Ortiz went 4-for-5 Sunday and felt so rejuvenated that he got thrown out by about 16 miles trying to stretch his 12th-inning single into something resembling a double.

Putting Lester on the All-Star team will help the Red Sox in their contract negotiations because of the "goodwill" it should generate. It will also raise his price since he can add "2014 All-Star" to his resume. The cost of any perceived slight in situations like this is often incalculable. Naming Lester to the A.L. pitching staff cannot hurt, unless he somehow gets hurt.

No one outside of the Red Sox front office and Lester's camp knows for sure what is happening when it comes to his contract negotiations. (Remember how surprised all those "insiders and experts" were the day of the Stephen Drew signing?) The two sides could be 10 minutes from a deal, 10 weeks, or $100 million.

Next week's All-Star break will provide the Red Sox a nice opening to start thinking about life after 2014. Naming Lester to this year's All-Star team was a small step making sure he's part of it.

The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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