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Lester no stranger to pitching on big stage

Red Sox's ace excited to face Rays in Game 1 in front of home crowd

BOSTON -- Jon Lester knows what it feels like to open a postseason series for his team, but this marks the first of his three career Game 1 starts that will be at Fenway Park, with a packed house roaring on every strike.

In 2008, Lester pitched Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Anaheim and beat his current teammate John Lackey in a tightly-contested duel. The next season, again in Anaheim, Lackey got him back.

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This time, Lester is the setup man for Lackey, who will pitch Game 2 against the Rays on Saturday.

Lester will do everything in his power starting with his first pitch on Friday at 3 p.m. ET on TBS to get his team a win in Game 1 and take some of the pressure off Lackey.

"This will be my first Game 1 at home, so that will be exciting," said Lester. "It will obviously be electric tomorrow afternoon. There's nothing like playoff atmosphere. You can't duplicate it. You can't describe it. It's just a different beast when you step out on that mound."

The lefty knows all about pitching on the big stage. As a 23-year-old, just one year removed from being diagnosed with cancer, Lester clinched the 2007 World Series for the Red Sox with his Game 4 victory in Colorado. In '08, he lost a heartbreaking Game 7 at Tropicana Field, leaving the Red Sox a win shy of getting to the World Series for the second year in a row. Lester has made six postseason starts in his career, going 2-3 with a 2.35 ERA.

"Jonny's been a guy who's been here for a long time," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "He's won a World Series for this team. He's been our Opening Day starter. He's the guy that we leaned on a lot. So for him to get this start, that's the way it should be."

Lester vs. Rays
Jon Lester is 12-11 with a 4.35 ERA in 28 career starts against the Rays.
Player AB H HR RBIs BB Ks Avg.
Longoria 55 13 4 10 8 19 .236
Zobrist 48 9 1 7 6 18 .188
Escobar 33 9 0 2 5 6 .273
Young 31 6 0 3 3 7 .194
Rodriguez 24 5 0 4 4 8 .208
Molina 26 9 0 1 3 7 .346
Jennings 25 9 1 2 1 6 .360
DeJesus 17 1 0 1 1 5 .059
Johnson 12 0 0 0 2 3 .000
Joyce 11 4 2 6 1 3 .364
Scott 11 0 0 0 0 5 .000
Loney 8 2 0 1 1 3 .250
Lobaton 7 0 0 0 0 3 .000
Fuld 6 1 0 1 0 1 .167
Myers 3 2 1 1 0 0 .667
Gimenez 2 0 0 0 0 0 .000

In the postseason, senses are heightened and the urgency increases. It is the type of atmosphere Lester relishes.

"You know the other team is more focused; they're ready to go," said Lester. "You know you have to step up your game a little bit and be more focused than the other guy. There's really nothing like it. We've talked about it in the clubhouse. And I'm sure it will be the exact same tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have a lot of fun doing it."

Lester will be opposed by one of the most promising lefties in the game -- Tampa Bay's Matt Moore.

There was a time when Lester was the phenom being thrust into the spotlight. Now he is the established veteran his teammates are counting on.

"He's our ace," said Saltalamacchia. "He's our big guy. He's our guy that goes out there and we rely on him to give us a chance to win every night. He's obviously pitched against these guys a lot. I'm kind of looking forward to him going out there and pitching his game."

Lester pitched four times against the Rays this season, going 2-1 with a 4.32 ERA.

He has made 28 career starts against the Rays, including the postseason, posting a 12-11 record and a 4.35 ERA.

"Obviously they're playing pretty good baseball right now," said Lester. "They've won three very important games for themselves. Really it's the same stuff. It wouldn't have mattered if it was the Rays or Cleveland or Texas or whatever. It comes down to you figure out your game plan against them, whatever it may be, and you need to go out and try to execute your pitches."

Lester's execution has been pinpoint since the All-Star break, as evidenced by his 7-2 record and 2.57 ERA in his final 13 regular-season starts.

"When you look at the year overall, there was probably about a six- or seven-start period where he was a little bit less than [expected]," said manager John Farrell. "Other than that, he had a very strong and productive year for us, and we're hoping that continues through October."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.

Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester