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.

Or cancer.

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.


theoriginaljd said...

Really nice job. Well written. I wrote about the same topic today - and as a lifelong Red Sox fan last night was a great moment.

Anonymous said...

And speaking in a purely baseball perspective, the Red Sox have a ton of pitchers now.

Obviously Beckett and Dice-K, with Wakefield throwing a different look in. Then with Schilling coming back, the Red Sox are going to have a great problem in choosing who will be their fifth starter (Tavarez/Lester/Gabbard... Tavarez most likely goes to the pen, and who knows between Lester/Gabbard; could one actually replace Wakefield?)

Business or Leisure? said...

I don't think Wake needs to be replaced. I've said throughout the year that Gabard is Major-League ready, but not capable of being dominant for a long time. I think Lester is. I say the Sox get what they can from Mr. Gabbard (one of my favorite guys to watch on this year's team) and then see what happens. It could be an Arroyo thing, where they trade for a prospect, or he could prove me wrong and be a great pitcher and not just a junk guy with good command.

Either way, Lester should be optioned and be a next year/September guy unless he shows a marked improvement over his stuff over the next two starts.

Anonymous said...

Well written indeed. I remember Lowell said he wanted to be known for being a baseball player, not a cancer survivor after he went through it in 1999. Lester's effort was much to that affect. He went out there and played like a baseball player, not a cancer survivor. I wrote Lester off too, shocked and saddened by his fate last year. It was great to see him pitch. Not pitch well, not pitch outstanding, but go out there, gut it out and do his job.

You said it right.