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Touching All the Bases

Jon Lester, Red Sox Finally Use a Familiar Blueprint -- Now it's Time to Use it More

ueharakojifinn418.jpgI know, the Red Sox are supposed to put last season behind them. No resting on their laurels, no complacency permitted, no hangovers allowed. It's a new season and I'm concerned that they think it's going to be easy to repeat, Mike and all of that.

It's annoying, and I'm not sure it's the right approach -- there are so many valuable lessons in resilience and determination from last year that should be carried into this season. You learn from winning. But I generally understand the premise. It is a new season, and some names and faces have changed. Can't argue that, Mike.

From a fan and media standpoint, it's certainly been easy enough to tuck away last season's memories as the new one has begun. The early April slog, which saw the defending champs -- we're allowed to acknowledge that much, right? -- win just two of their first six and five of their first 14 games made October feel even farther in the rear-view mirror than it actually is.

We saw Will Middlebrooks for four games before he got hurt. We are yet to see Shane Victorino. Dustin Pedroia hasn't hit a home run. David Ortiz has a .655 OPS. Daniel Nava is hitting .130. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury changed allegiances and enhanced their bank accounts. Stephen Drew is suffering from Boras Syndrome.

Yep. New season.

Which is why it was so encouraging Thursday night to watch a game that felt like it duplicated from last year's blueprint -- and in some important ways, the October blueprint.

Start with that picture atop the page. Koji Uehara, unhittable to everyone not named Jose Lobaton last season, returned from his shoulder scare to do his thing -- he locked down the ninth inning on one hit and without much suspense.

As for the familiar smiling guy wearing the tools of ignorance who is congratulating Uehara, well. David Ross's go-ahead double in the ninth provided the go-ahead run in an eventual 3-1 win. That's the same David Ross who seized the starting job last October and owns a .792 career OPS in the postseason. For a guy without much of a reputation as a hitter, he's sure had his moments.

It should also be noted that the winning came after the Sox battled the exceptional Sale to a draw through 127 pitches, then claimed the victory against a subpar bullpen. Again, such a route to a win is -- you know it -- straight out of last year.

Of course, it wouldn't have been possible without the effort of Jon Lester, who battled pitch for pitch with an opposing ace and emerged victorious in the end. The Red Sox' lefty, who was so brilliant last postseason, winning four of his five starts against the likes of Adam Wainwright (twice), former minor league teammate Anibal Sanchez and Matt Moore, out-dueled the electrifying Sale.

If he continues to pitch like he has since the beginning of last season's second half (he had a 2.57 ERA after the All-Star break), he's going to make close to twice what the Red Sox reportedly offered him. Consider: Cole Hamels, his No. 3 career comp who is 11 days older, is due $90 million over the next four years, with the possiblity of $20 million or $24 million coming his way in 2019. The high-end of that -- five years and $114 million -- should be Lester's starting point.

What duel it was -- neither pitcher allowed a hit through the first five innings. The Red Sox broke up Sale's no-hit bid with a Manny-style solo homer by Xander Bogaerts, another star of last autumn. Bogaerts, whose now-retired Twitter account indicated it wasn't his first home run of the day, crushed Sale's pitch for his first homer of the season and second of his brief career. According to ESPN's awesome home run tracker, the ball was on a path to travel 444 feet.

That's a whole foot farther than his first homer, last September 7 against the Yankees:

According to my math, Bogaerts is now averaging 443.5 feet per homer in his career. Conclusion: He is going to hit for major power -- and perhaps very soon.

Hey, I realize this is a lot of optimism and words spent on just a single win, especially since it was against a White Sox team that probably won't achieve a whole lot this season. But 16 games and seven victories into the season, it was the first really familiar-feeling win.

Maybe it was a tease, maybe it was a harbinger. But it sure did look like one that might have been hammered together by last year's champions.

Forget putting last season behind them. What they need to do is dig out that blueprint more often.

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