John Lester has written himself into the history books, thanks to an inspiring performance last night, as he dominated the Kansas City Royals' lineup on his way to a thrilling no hitter! There was something different about Lester last night. I was not able to tune in to the game until the 5th inning, having just coached my daughter's softball team on a cold and windy day. The first thing I saw was the 5-0 lead - all right! Then, with the first glimpse I got of Lester, I immediately saw a deep fire in his eyes and confidence just emanating from him. I thought, "excellent - Lester has a 5-0 lead and looks like he is 'on' tonight!". NESN was showing replays of a terrific diving catch in center field by Jacoby Ellsbury. This looks like a fun game!
I had no idea what the game situation was, other than the 5-0 lead, and was forced to bounce between activities until the 7th inning. But, I was impressed with his confidence, swagger, and command. He KNEW what he was doing with every pitch, he was getting ahead of hitters, and his location was the best I've seen this year. With the no-hitter in progress, Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, in my glimpses bouncing in and out of the room, never mentioned "that which cannot be spoken" during a no hitter. So by the time I settled in to watch the game for good, it was the 7th inning, and I still had no idea there was a no hitter in progress. They mentioned his low pitch count and I wondered if he had a shot at a complete game, but assumed Terry Francona would rest him in the ninth if the score held up.
Then they showed the scoreboard. My eyes lit up. Was that a zero in the hit column in the 7th inning? No wonder Don was being so coy in his commentary. Now, this was exciting, but there are still nine outs to go, so let's not get too excited. Then I watched as Lester, with brutal efficiency, breeze through the 7th 1-2-3, ending with a swinging strikeout to Jose Guillen. The butterflies in my stomach began stirring. Six outs to go. Terry Francona tried to give Lester as much help as possible, removing future gold glove left fielder, Manny Ramirez, replacing him with the defensive expertise of Coco Crisp. Coco took over center field, and Jacoby Ellsbury moved to left. With JD Drew in right field, the Sox now had in place one of the fastest group of outfielders in the game. I wanted to assemble the family to witness this, but maybe it was too soon.
First batter in the eighth inning - called out on strikes. Second batter - strike out swinging. Butterflies in full flight now. Third batter puts the bat on a curveball and sends it to center field. Coco Crisp is ready and waiting - three outs.
Okay, we are heading in to the ninth inning - time to assemble the troops. The kids are a little confused, as I cannot say the words, "no hitter", out loud, but they quickly catch on. With everyone in position, we watched the ninth inning. Francona tightens down the defense one more time - this time sending in Alex Cora for shortstop Julio Lugo. First batter, walks! Uh oh! Well, its not a hit, and could set up a double play. Next batter hits a high chopper towards third, this could be trouble. The incredibly high bounce could give the runner time to beat the throw to first. Mike Lowell charges, plays it perfectly, and fires to first beating the runner by a full step. We all jump in the air and cheer. Runner on second base, one out. Left-hander, David Jesus, hits a ground ball towards first base. We hold our breaths as Kevin Youkilis easily scoops the ball and tags first base himself. Youk does not even glance at Lester after the play - superstition is alive and well in Boston.
We are all on edge, and we remember just last year when Curt Schilling carried a no hitter right down to the last batter, who ruined it with a single to right. This was not over.
The final batter, Alberto Callespo, was not going to go down easily, and he was looking for a hit. Callespo swung and fouled off the first pitch, swung at and missed the second pitch. He watched the third pitch go by for a ball, before swinging at and fouling off the 4th pitch. With every swing we cringed, praying it would not result in a hit. Lester was about to throw pitch number 130. He had plenty of adrenaline flowing, and looked even stronger than in the earlier innings. His eyes grew fierce, his lips tightened. Lester had had enough - everything he had left would go into this pitch. He wound up, and let loose a 96 MPH fastball. Callespo, down 1-2, could not let it go by. He swung, but all his bat got was air. The ball popped into Jason Varitek's mitt - strike three! We leaped into the air with cheers, mimicking the celebration on TV.
What a day for Lester! Two years ago he was on extended leave, fighting a battle against cancer. Last night, he culminated his fight back reaching one of the highest pinnacles a pitcher can reach. Congratulations John - Boston loves you!
(Photos courtesy of Boston.com)