Red Sox turn to Lester to regain upper hand in ALCS
Gearing up for Game 5, Boston's ace knows runs will likely be at a premium
DETROIT -- Jon Lester came away from his start in the opening contest of the American League Championship Series lamenting his poor luck, saying how unfortunate it was that one run had been enough for the Tigers to beat the Red Sox in Game 1 at Fenway Park.
After being wowed by sterling starting pitching performances on both sides through the first three games of the series, Lester now realizes that runs are in short supply across the board. The left-hander will get his chance to continue the trend Thursday (8 p.m. ET, FOX), taking the ball for Boston in Game 5 of the ALCS.
"As a fan, as a fellow pitcher, absolutely it's been a great series," Lester said. "Just an intense series, pitch to pitch. I don't think you could ask for anything more from these two teams."
Yes, so far, the 10 combined runs scored in Game 4 would be an aberration in this series. Lester returns to the mound after holding the Tigers to a run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings in Game 1, accomplishing his primary objective by keeping the top of Detroit's lineup quiet.
Dotting his cutter, curveball and sinker nicely in a 109-pitch outing, Lester checked off his 10th postseason start over four separate playoff appearances, but Anibal Sanchez and Detroit's bullpen outpitched Lester by carrying a no-hitter into the ninth.
Jhonny Peralta's sixth-inning, two-out bloop single to center field accounted for the only run in the game. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said that he likes Boston's chances of giving a better showing the second time around.
"We're going up against a guy that had a no-hitter going against us, but at the same time, he had an advantage of we'd never seen him," Saltalamacchia said. "Not to take anything away from him, he's a great pitcher, but we've just got to get pitches to hit, put them in play, play solid defense and just let Jonny go out there and do what he does."
Key stat: He has a 2.70 ERA when getting run support of two runs or fewer.
Key stat: He held the Red Sox without a hit in six innings in Game 1.
At Comerica Park
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 7.94 ERA Career: 3 GS, 1-0, 4.58 ERA
2013: 14 GS, 8-3, 2.70 ERA Career: 20 GS, 11-5, 2.92 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 3 GS, 2-1, 3.32 ERA Career: 8 GS, 2-3, 4.24 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 6.10 ERA
Loves to face: Omar Infante, 2-for-9, .444 OPS Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 11-for-22, 1.392 OPS
Loves to face: Shane Victorino, 10-for-46, .584 OPS Hates to face: David Ortiz, 3-for-6, 2.167 OPS
Why he'll win: He's allowed nine hits over 14 postseason innings in 2013.
Why he'll win: He has command of his changeup.
Pitcher beware: The short right porch at Comerica makes inside pitches to left-handed hitters dangerous.
Pitcher beware: He walked six in Game 1 and needed 116 pitches to get through six innings.
Bottom line: He's at his best when aggressive; he's thrown at least 70 strikes in both postseason starts.
Bottom line: The Red Sox couldn't touch him in Game 1, why change anything?
Lester has particularly been on point since the All-Star break, going 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in his final 14 starts of the season, then allowing three runs over 14 innings (1.93 ERA) against the Rays and Tigers in two postseason starts.
"Not to make it too simple, but it's been his fastball command," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And as he's gained that consistency and the confidence with it, I think he's become a more relaxed pitcher on the mound, which enables him to pitch more freely from a physical standpoint. I think that's why we're seeing the velocity climb, and it's made his pitches more effective."
Lester said that Farrell's assessment "hits the nail on the head," saying that his fastball sets up everything else in the arsenal.
"That's the name of being a pitcher," Lester said. "You've got to have good command of your fastball down the zone on both sides. For whatever reason, whether it was just that little extra time after the break, I just physically felt better within each game."
Now it is homework time. Lester has been watching the Tigers take their swings as the series shifted from Boston to Detroit, and though the information might be more relevant if the Sox were starting another left-handed pitcher, Lester feels there is still value in what he has picked up.
"Maybe you see soft in certain counts works better than hard, whatever -- just try to pick up something," Lester said. "But at the same time, you look at some pitching that's worked. These guys are smart hitters, they know how I've gotten them out in the past and they know how they've gotten hits in the past. You have to take somewhere in the middle and adjust off that."
Lester also said that he doesn't have any concern about the challenge of facing the same Tigers lineup within such a short span.
"You have a game plan going in, and that's based on the scouting report you've seen and based on what you've seen the past couple of days," Lester said. "And it's a game of adjustment. Sometimes you go in there, you think you've got it all figured out and they're one step ahead of you and you've got to change on the fly.
"Like I said, we're going to have our game plan and whatever that may be, we're going to try to execute that. And if we have to adjust, we have to adjust, and that's just being part of a pitcher."