Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, July 08, 2006

THE ROOKIE AND THE VET

So far, Jon Lester has proven to be everything, and more than, he was said to be.

The unflappable Lester became the first Red Sox rookie starter to win his first four decisions since Aaron Sele began the season 6-0 in 1993, helping the Red Sox beat the defending World Series Champion White Sox 7-2, Friday night in Chicago.

But as become customary in his short tenure with the Sox, Lester had some rocky moments. After walking two and throwing a wild pitch in the first, Lester escaped further trouble by merely yielding a sacrifice fly to Jermaine Dye.

The young lefty also managed to work out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third by only allowing another sacrifice fly to Dye, before getting Joe Crede to roll into an inning-ending double play.

With a cool-as-can-be attitude, Lester seems to flirt with, even court, danger without a hint of fear.

Said manager Terry Francona, "He's shown a very good amount of poise at a young age. You have to have stuff with it or it doesn't matter. It's a nice combination. He keeps his composure, he keeps his wits about him. He executes pitches."

With his six hit, two run performance over six innings, Lester dropped his ERA to an impressive 3.06, helping the Sox win the last five games he's pitched. Oh, and those six hits -- they were all singles.

But the Sox didn't win on pitching alone.

Slugger David Ortiz continued his dominance with his league-leading 30th homer in the first inning. With his blast, Ortiz became the 29th player in history to have 30 by the break, and the first since Barry Bonds in 2003.

But that wasn't the only reason Ortiz's two-run shot had historic significance. Big Papi became the first Red Sox player in history to have 30 dingers before the All-Star break. The legendary Carl Yastrzemski had previously held the team record with 29 homers at the break in 1969. However, the break came late that season, July 23, and the Sox already had played 96 games, 12 more than the Sox had played this year. After cooling off a bit in the second half, Yaz finished the season with 40 homers. That may have been, in part, due to pitchers making their adjustments and pitching more carefully to him. Will the same thing happen to Ortiz? We'll have to wait and see, but he has the distinct advantage of hitting in front of Manny Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer.

Entering today, Papi's totals of 30 homers and 84 RBIs had him on pace to hit 58 longbballs and drive in 163 runs.

With numbers like that, and a team that appears poised to make the playoffs yet again, the burly Dominican could very well be on his way to his first, and well deserved, MVP.

What Ortiz is doing this year has hardly been a surprise, as we've all become accustomed to his heroics over the course of his 3 1/2 years in Boston.

What has been a surprise, however, has been the contribution of the 22-year-old lefty from Tacoma, Washington.

Lester's surprising maturity and confidence have been a godsend to a beleaguered Sox rotation that currently has two starters on the DL. And if they are going to continue on their path of dominance, hopefully leading to a return World Series Championship, they'll have to count on more of Lester's uncanny nerve and veteran-like poise to get there.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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