Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Outside the Aviary: "Against All Odds"
Tonight, I watched something I didn't think I would see. I watched a kid younger than me beat a fantastic offensive team in their own home while the Red Sox lead the division. He garnered comparisons to Chris Young (from Orel Hershiser, no less) by getting out of jams and making the right pitches. He let the defense work when he couldn't strike his man out. He snuck in his offspeed stuff after using his fastball to get ahead early. He didn't let his walks beat him. Jon Lester went to work.
At times, I would say that Lester looked like he could contribute for the rest of this season. This is astounding seeing as how he struggled before a prolonged DL stint last season and lost his command at critical times throughout his young career. The Indians weren't often fooled by his pitches, yet they never hit the important ones. The Grady Sizemore home run aside, Lester gave them chances for walks and cut fastball singles, but never the chance to hurt him terribly. This is the pitcher I saw last season, before his injury. It's the guy that seemed calm in the face of whatever confronted him-- whether it be a bases loaded situation or AAA options being mentioned when he couldn't get out of the fifth inning.
I remember reading that Jon Lester was diagnosed with cancer and thinking... damn, that kid had a shot. I'm not gonna say his courage or anything other than the luck of finding the disease early had anything to do with his comeback. I'm not a doctor. Nor do I care to offer my opinion on how or why Jon Lester came to be a fantastic feel-good story amongst the Vick/Donaghy/Bonds face-off amongst the talking heads in sports. All I know is, eleven months ago, the Red Sox were all but out a pitcher. I mean, even AIDS cowers in a corner when Cancer enters the room. Yet, Lester made his pitches tonight, answered his post-game questions and now he waits for his next start to see if he or Kason Gabbard will be the fifth starter when Curt Schilling is ready to pitch again.
In fact, I get the feeling that tonight had nothing to do with courage. I think Lester came out and threw the ball. He listened to his catcher, trusted the lead his offense gave him and did what came naturally. It was the same thing he did with his doctors and family a few months ago, the same thing he did with his coaches and teammates in the minors and the same thing he'll do when Theo Epstein and Terry Francona decide if he is ready to contribute every fifth day come August 6th-- Schilling's scheduled return. The courage part is hard. Tonight was easy. Tonight, Jon Lester got to have some fun and beat a playoff-ready team.
Tonight, Jon Lester beat the Cleveland Indians. That seems easy, compared to amateur oddsmakers (like myself) who wrote him off eleven months ago. Courage takes on many forms when a 22-year-old kid takes the mound for the first time in the majors. Or battles cancer. Tonight was neither of those things. All Jon Lester did was go to work tonight. And win. That had to feel right, though it looked wrong. I couldn't believe what I saw. Neither could his parents.
All along, however, Jon Lester looked like he was doing something normal. He was doing his job.