DENVER - This one was for you, Jon Lester.
Lester frustrated and overpowered the Colorado Rockies for 5 2/3 innings last night, picking up the victory in the Boston’s World Series-clinching 4-3 victory at Coors Field. Lester threw shutout ball, allowing just three hits and fanning three.
Lester, 23, had to feel the energy coming from all over the world last night. The force was with him. There wasn’t a sports fan alive who couldn’t have felt for a kid who had cancer, beat it, and then came out and won the most important game of the season. What a stage. What a story. What a performance for someone who a year ago was undergoing chemotherapy, his whole world turned upside down.
”Words can’t describe it right now,” said Lester, his T-shirt and cap soaked in champagne. “It hasn’t sunk in. Maybe it’ll sink in when we’re riding around Boston with the trophy. Right now, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Lester often has said during his remarkable journey that whatever happens to him from here on out, whatever challenges he’s given, he can persevere. He knows fighting for his life was the greatest challenge he’s ever faced.
There was baseball pressure for sure. Every young pitcher goes through trials and tribulations. Over the last few weeks of the season and through last night, Lester seemed to put those behind him.
”A year ago, I wasn’t even playing baseball,” Lester said. “My season got cut short. And now to be here in this situation, this is a dream come true. To be part of this organization that supported me so much and did so much to get me better and bring me back. To bring this back to Boston makes this so much more special.”
Nobody was more proud of Lester than Curt Schilling.
”The clutchest game I’ve ever seen pitched,” Schilling said. “To pitch as well as Jon did given what he’s been through . . . It’s absolutely incredible what he did out there tonight.”
Lester’s fastball was hitting 94 miles per hour, busting the tough Rockie hitters inside so they couldn’t get their arms extended. He was poised. He used his curveball and changeup effectively.
”He had an incredible slider,” said Colorado rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. “I fouled off a couple of pitches I thought I should have hit. He got me two times on that pitch. He did a good job. He was able to mix those offspeed pitches. He was really tough to hit.”
Lester thought his slider was “just all right. I threw some good ones. Sometimes it looked a little big, but for the most part it was short and tight. They say the curveball isn’t as tight here so I went more to my changeup. Later in the game we threw a lot more back-door cutters and it was effective. But you know, it’s just been a whirlwind year.”
Count Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins among those who were impressed.
”He pitched the game of his life,” said Atkins. “He really did. His whole story is amazing. If you had to get beat by someone you have to be happy for that guy.”
One could see Lester was pretty jacked up from the outset. He got leadoff man Kaz Matsui to pop up back to him. He struck out Tulowitzki and got Matt Holliday to ground to second.
”I didn’t think I had anything special coming out of the bullpen,” said Lester. “But you never know until you get out there and actually try the stuff you have and get that adrenaline going, then things look more crisp. They have a good hitting team and I knew I couldn’t make any mistakes. I had a lot of nerves going in but once I got on the mound it wasn’t that bad.”
Lester said he wasn’t affected by the altitude. He said he had spent some time the last two days conditioning.
”It wasn’t bad at all,” he said. “Colorado is a tough place to play because it’s so far up, but I had good preparation coming into the game.”
Lester’s been through some emotional moments this season, including his first start, July 23d against Cleveland when he pitched six innings, allowed two earned runs in a 6-2 win.
Asked which was most important, Lester didn’t hesitate.
”This one for sure,” he said. “This one meant so much to our team. It’s the World Series and it’s the clinching game. The [first] start was big for me, don’t get me wrong. But this one really meant something for our team.”
His teammates were bubbling with enthusiasm for Lester. They were so moved he got the win in the Series clincher.
Fellow cancer survivor Mike Lowell, the MVP of the Series, was particularly effusive in his praise.
”Just a gutsy, classy kid,” said Lowell. “What can I say about him? He’s courageous. He’s a very likeable kid who just works so hard. He’s obviously a fighter and he got presented with an awful thing and he never complained and never said, ‘Why me?’ He just went about beating it. And then to come back in baseball shape and have to develop himself as a pitcher on top of it, I’m telling you, I can’t wait to see this kid and what the finished product is because it’s going to be exceptional.”
Lester’s mother shed a tear. His dad was so proud.
Lester had the entire world, not just Red Sox Nation, rooting for him. This was one of the great World Series stories and Lester made certain it had a happy ending.