The fairytale story-like year for Jon Lester continues to roll on as the 24-year old left hander added another feat to his list of remarkable accomplishment by hurling a no-hitter in Boston’s 7-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals yesterday evening. What’s most amazing about this achievement is it probably ranks 3rd on his all-time list.
After the southpaw threw a 96mph fast ball past Alberto Callaspo for his 9th strike out of the night and final out of the game, teammates rushed the mound in a celebration that was almost reminiscent of when Lester started and picked up the win for Game 4 of the 2007 World Series. This feat alone is any pitchers dream, but it still doesn’t measure up to Lester’s number one triumph.
Little over and a year and a half year ago he was experiencing back pains that he believed to be directly related to a minor car accident. He went in for a routine check-up and was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Here’s a 23-year old kid that thought he needed a heat pad and massage but comes home with cancer. Not the kind of news anyone wants to get from their doctor, never mind a MLB pitcher, but Lester took it in stride and vowed that he’d fight it until it was gone.
And that’s exactly what he did, he battled the cancer until it went into remission, worked himself back into baseball shape, and midway through the 2007 season was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket to begin rehabbing. One year ago today Lester pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in a rehab assignment that showed many the type of character he had, and what perseverance is all about.
His manager Terry Francona put it just right when he said, “He’s a wonderful kid, not because he threw a no-hitter. He’s a good kid because he’s a good kid. We’re proud of him all the time but to watch him do that tonight was beyond words. I tried to put it into words but it’s hard because, what a story.”
Lester appreciates all that Francona and the Red Sox have done for him with his time in Boston. “I’ve been through a lot the last couple of years. He’s been like a second dad to me,” he said. “It was just a special moment right there.”
This was the 18th no-hitter thrown by a Red Sox pitcher and the first no-no of the 2008 MLB season. Lester already had an 8 inning, 1 hit performance under his belt in a 1-0 Red Sox win over the Toronto Blue Jays on April 29th where he only allowed a single to Lyle Overbay. His teammate Clay Buchholtz was the last Sox pitcher to toss a no-hitter, which came on his 2nd major league start on Sept. 1st 2007.
Lester’s performance is obviously the story of the night but his teammates helped him along the way to make it possible. Jacoby Ellsbury made a highlight reel diving snag in center field on a looping ball to end the 4th inning to preserve the no-hit bid, and Jason Varitek continued to call a tight game mixing all four of Lester’s pitches in, keeping the Royals guessing all night. Tek also belted a 2-run bomb in the 6th inning, his 5th homer of the year.
This was the 4th no-hitter that Varitek has caught, which is an MLB record. He was also behind the dish for Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter in 2001, Derek Lowe’s no-hitter in 2002, and Buchholtz’s no-no last season. “It’s so exciting to be part of one. Each one is so different,” said Varitek, who handed Lester the ball from the final pitch but didn’t have much to say. “Just let him enjoy the moment. It was his moment.” It was his moment indeed and it’s amazing that it doesn’t come even close to what he has already accomplished in his days in Boston.
Congratulations Jon, you earned it.