09/30/08 7:33 PM ET
Lester will lean on past in Game 1of ALDS vs. Halos
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
It was, in fact, quite a simple moment when manager Terry Francona informed Jon Lester he would be the Red Sox's de factor No. 1 starter in the American League Division Series against the Angels.
"It was kind of one of those deals where he let me know Josh [Beckett] was feeling a little pain in his [right] oblique and I might be pitching," said Lester.
No big deal, right?
Lester sure is treating it that way.
Perhaps as a product of all the experiences that brought him to this point, Lester, on the eve of one of the postseason's more highly anticipated affairs, showed no real emotion when he talked of what lay ahead at Angel Stadium.
And Lester's teammates talk of him replacing Beckett -- a man who is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in the postseason -- as if it's a simple flopping of names and nothing more.
"What can you say?" shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "[Lester has] been steady for us all year. He had some great outings, and we expect to see more of the same."
Filling in for an ailing teammate is nothing new to Lester. Injuries, in fact, have opened many a door for him in the relatively short time he's been in the big leagues.
He made his Major League debut in 2006 when a rash of ailing arms created the need for a starter. And he got the ball for the Game 4 clincher in last year's World Series against the Rockies when Tim Wakefield went down with a right shoulder problem.
Turning in 5 2/3 scoreless innings on the night the Red Sox were once again crowned as kings taught Lester something about the steely resolve needed in these situations.
That's experience he expects will assist him Wednesday night.
"Anytime you pitch in a playoff atmosphere, it helps with your nerves," he said. "You can control your emotions, not let the crowd affect you."
Of course, when one dissects Lester's 2008 season, the threat of him being affected by pitching outside the confines of Fenway Park is worth noting. He was 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home this season, but just 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA on the road.
"I guess you just feel more comfortable at home," he said. "Any player or pitcher will tell you that. You just have your routines that you feel more comfortable with at home and you have the ability to do 'em on your schedule."
But Lester, who is 1-1 with a 7.78 ERA in four career appearances against the Angels, has already shown a willingness to adjust his schedule when the situation dictates.
His lone appearance against the Angels this season came when he filled in for a flu-ridden Daisuke Matsuzaka on three days' rest on April 23. Lester told pitching coach John Farrell he was willing to make the start mere hours before the first pitch, and he ended up allowing four runs on nine hits over five innings to take the loss.
But that would be one of the last times Lester would struggle in the 2008 regular season. His next outing saw him toss eight shutout innings in a win over the Blue Jays. Three starts after that, he no-hit the Royals.
When all was said and done, Lester had gone 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA that ranked fifth in the AL. And he had earned the trust of a Red Sox team that will be counting on him to strip the Angels of their home-field advantage.
"He's pitching with confidence," Francona said. "He should. After that first month in the season, he's been one of the best pitchers in the game."
That Lester was able to ascend to this point after battling and beating lymphoma endears him to the Red Sox even further.
"It's hard not to root for this kid," Francona said. "He's got a special place in all our hearts."
Now that he has a special place at the forefront of Boston's postseason rotation, Lester is the picture of confidence. The lymphoma battle taught him to appreciate these opportunities, and he's not about to let a little thing like nerves get in the way.
"You know, the good games mean a lot to me, but the bad games don't seem to affect me as much as they used to," he said. "It puts it in realization that this is a game, it's fun."
And the fun begins anew Wednesday night, with Lester in the spotlight.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.