BOSTON -- When the night started and the baseball kept exploding out of Jon Lester's hand and seemingly into the exact spot where catcher Kelly Shoppach was putting his target, the possibilities seemed endless. Perfect game? No-hitter? Complete-game shutout?
By the time Monday night's contest ended, Lester merely settled for a satisfying complete-game 6-1 victory over the Mariners.
Lester's ultimate mission is to win every game he pitches and go as many innings as he can. So in that sense, his goal was reached in this satisfying game that brought Boston's win streak to four games.
"Obviously you want to go nine," said Lester. "Every time you go out there, that's your goal. To stand out there and watch everybody run in and give them high fives, and you feel like all the work you put in that week is for a reason. With that being said, like I said at the start, a win is a win -- regardless of how you look at it. That's our ultimate job, to give up less runs than the other guy and hopefully you score more and you're on the better side."
The power lefty mowed through the first 11 batters he faced with striking ease. But of course it was Ichiro Suzuki who made sure this wouldn't be any kind of milestone night, lining one off Lester's glove and off to the third-base side of the mound to give the Mariners their first hit and baserunner with two outs in the fourth.
"I think that's everybody's goal when they go out there, to throw a no-hitter or a perfect game," said Lester. "I just ended up giving up a base hit a little bit later than normal. I was just able to keep the ball down, like I said. You know, it's obviously in the back of your mind, but I don't think it really becomes significant until the sixth, seventh inning. That's where you're counting those outs down and you might have a chance."
Lester threw a no-hitter against the Royals back on May 19, 2008.
"Actually, [bench coach Tim Bogar] said something about a no-hitter before the game," manager Bobby Valentine said. "You always wonder when that happens and you look up four innings later and there's a zero in that column. But they're hard to come by. Ichiro got two of their hits. He's going to be a tough out."
Believe it or not, Lester's no-no back in 2008 was also his last complete-game shutout at Fenway.
Lester came close to doing it again, coming out for the ninth with a 6-0 lead. Ichiro again got something started, leading off with a single to left. With one out, Justin Smoak hit a double. Kyle Seager thwarted Lester's bid for his third career shutout with a fielder's-choice RBI.
Lester has Boston's only two complete games this season, but his first was an eight-inning road loss.
"He went out and it looked like he had a mission to accomplish, and he accomplished it," said Valentine. "He was throwing all of his pitches early in the game, throwing them all for strikes. He had a very confident look about himself. Just for you younger reporters out there, that's called a complete game -- when the starter starts it and then he finishes it."
Good thing Valentine didn't contemplate removing Lester after eight.
"I wasn't coming out of that game unless we scored 10," Lester said. "That, for me, was my game. Bobby was going to have to fight me for the ball if he came down the end of the dugout."
Lester's magnificent performance allowed him to win just his second game in the last 12 starts dating back to Sept. 11, 2011.
This season, his biggest obstacle had been run support, as the Red Sox had scored him just 3.43 runs a game entering this one -- the lowest of anyone in Boston's rotation.
But the Sox gave him enough to work with in this one.
Daniel Nava and Shoppach both went deep to spark the offense.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox seem to be gaining confidence as a unit, something that has been propelled by some overdue success from the starting rotation.
"Well, I think when you watch your other guys as a staff, we're pretty prideful in what we try to do," Lester said. "When you start seeing guys succeed and making pitches and getting out of jams, the offense comes in and picks our guys up if we give up a run, score another run, and just keep adding on.
"You get that confidence. Everybody talks about confidence and feeling good. It just keeps building, and you feel like, 'OK, if I buy into what we're doing and execute pitches, everything will take care of itself.' I think that's been our mindset the past four nights. 'Hey, this is our approach, this is what we're trying to do. Let's go after it. If they get us, they get us. If they don't, our guys are going to get them and hopefully we're on the better end at the end of the game.'"
The Red Sox came out swinging out of the gate. Dustin Pedroia ignited the first-inning rally against Jason Vargas with a one-out walk. David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez followed with back-to-back opposite-field RBI doubles.
In the fourth, the Red Sox took some more big cuts. After a leadoff single by Cody Ross, Nava smacked a two-run homer that just cleared the Green Monster. It was Nava's second career homer, but first since he hit a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat on June 12, 2010.
"I didn't think it was gone, knowing how big the wall is, and seeing some other balls that guys have hit," said Nava. "I thought it was going to go off the wall and I was surprised that it barely squeaked over. I'll take it."
Later in the inning, Shoppach unloaded for a solo shot that sailed into the parking lot beyond the Monster Seats. That gave Lester a 5-0 lead.
"Occasionally I bump into 'em," Shoppach said of his first homer with the Red Sox.
But the story was Lester.
"He's a smart kid," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "As he works his way through the lineup the second and third times, he does a nice job mixing-and-matching, and he did a lot of that tonight."