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October 5, 2013

Vintage Lester had 'bite-your-head-off' mentality

BOSTON — It feels like a million moons ago, but do you remember when Jon Lester threw shutdown sixth and seventh innings in Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS against the Angels after Jason Bay homered in the top of the sixth to hand the lefty and Boston a 2-1 lead?

If you don’t remember, that’s OK. After all, Lester recently said that 4-1 Boston victory happened so long ago he can’t remember much about it except for Bay’s blast.

But for me — a man who loves the art of pitching more than anything else in baseball — I didn’t remember how the Red Sox took the lead in ‘08 until Lester mentioned it. The one thing I did recall was the way Lester held the lead in the late innings.

That was the Lester who was missing last year when he struggled to a career-worst 4.82 ERA. The southpaw coughed up too many leads in ‘12 as the opposition batted .283 when he was ahead in games.

But vintage Lester finally has returned and he led the Red Sox 12-2 over Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the ALDS here at Fenway Park yesterday. Lester went 7.2 innings, allowing just two runs, both earned, on three hits (two solo homers) and three walks while striking out seven.

The Red Sox took a 1-0 best-of-five series lead. The two rivals meet for Game 2 at Fenway today at 5:37 p.m.

This is the way Lester must pitch for Boston to make a legitimate run at a World Series title. As John Lackey, who pitches today said, “one run feels like three in the postseason.”

Lackey is correct. Runs are so difficult to come by because the postseason is centered on pitching and defense. And so when your team gives you a lead like the Red Sox gave Lester yesterday, you must hold it. Kudos to Lester for doing just that.

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