It was quite possibly the most important start by a Red Sox pitcher so far this season.
Right, like you need another reminder of what Daisuke Matsuzaka did.
But while a ridiculous sports media contingent was in Kansas City yesterday to chronicle all things Dice-K, a perhaps more vital performance was going on in South Carolina, where Red Sox lefty Jon Lester made a rehab start with the Single-A Greenville Drive. Not to discount the dominance displayed by the Japanese rookie in a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals, but Lester’s outing Thursday night, while not as flashy, was certainly more inspirational.
And yet, virtually ignored.
Today’s Globe features five separate stories on Matsuzaka Mania. Lester’s four-inning stint against the Charleston RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate, got four sentences in the Red Sox notebook. A Google news search for Daisuke Matsuzaka responded with 4,165 results; Lester: 631.
Maybe we’re all waiting for Lester’s return to the parent club to celebrate his success in beating cancer, but last night was just as good a starting point as any, as the lefty allowed just two hits and a walk, striking out five in his 2007 debut.
According to Pete Iacobelli of the Charleston Post and Courier:
The big left-hander was on target against the RiverDogs, throwing 37 of his 54 pitches for strikes. Lester hit 96 mph at one point, according to Charleston’s scoreboard, and kept the young Yankees off stride.
Austin Jackson, the second batter Lester faced, swung wildly at strike three. Lester closed the second inning by striking out Josue Calzado, then opened the next inning by doing the same to Jose Gil.
Charleston second baseman Wilmer Pino had the hardest shot against Lester, a liner into right-center that looked it would fall but Greenville center fielder Jon Eagan made a sliding catch.
Perhaps most encouraging from Lester’s outing was the 54 pitches through four innings, 69 percent for strikes, particularly considering his inability to go deep into games last season while with the Red Sox. He’s expected to make three more starts for Greenville before the front office decides what his next step will be.
“I felt good out there,” Lester told MLB.com. “There were a little jitters, but overall I was feeling really good. I’m about as close as you can get to feeling 100 percent.
“I would like to return tomorrow. We’ll have to sit down and see where we are. Hopefully, in four starts I’ll be in [Triple-A] Pawtucket or Boston.”
On a night when most of the players on the field probably won’t get a sniff of the major leagues, Lester made his latest step in an inspirational battle. We should be hesitant to call any professional athletes heroes, but sometimes, at least, they do transcend that boundary even just a little bit to help serve as an encouraging beacon for some particular reason.
Lester is that guy in Boston, a young athlete who had his world crashing down around him less than a year ago, only to pick things back up and fight on to get back to where he wants to be professionally. Cancer didn’t stop him, what’s the American League East going to do?
He made that first step last night. Nobody from the Boston media was there to cover it. They were all in Kansas City or even Japan, for crying out loud, for more Dice-K coverage than you could possibly sift through before his next start next Wednesday at Fenway Park.
But Jon Lester had the more important start last night in South Carolina. Too bad we ignored it.
Former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler made his managerial debut with the Drive last night (and even has his own, albeit infrequently updated, blog in the local paper). Darth Vader, a couple of stormtroopers, and Boba Fett helped former AL president Gene Budig throw out the first pitch, the Dark Lord of the Sith taking time to taunt Red Sox fans, reminding them where Johnny Damon’s allegiances now lie.
Lester’s performance probably gave them plenty of reason to sit back and take it, settled in the knowledge that this could be the guy that possibly finishes making up the best pitching staff in the majors.