FORT MYERS, Fla. — Grim. Glum. Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester last year looked like a 50-year-old coal miner who was falling behind on his child-support payments. He was joyless and angry. He was Ralph Nader. He was Bill Belichick. Lester was the personification of abject unhappiness.
He looked like Nomar Garciaparra during his final days at Fenway in 2004. He looked like a guy who was “Bostoned out.’’ Lester went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA for the last-place Red Sox. He hated pitching for Bobby Valentine, a hideous skipper who left him on the mound to take an 11-run beating against the Blue Jays at Fenway in July. Lester looked like he’d rather be a scuba diver for Roto-Rooter.
“There’s a little bit of a chip there,’’ Lester acknowledged Wednesday afternoon after the Sox’ second official workout for pitchers and catchers. “I want to prove that last year was a fluke and not have it happen again.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of talking about last year. You can just see it in some guys. We’ve never had a season like that. We’ve never got our ass kicked that bad. It’s frustrating and it’s humbling. Nobody wants to be that team.
“It was miserable.’’
Are you happy playing baseball in Boston?
“I love baseball,’’ Lester answered. “I love Boston. People don’t see me other than the fifth day and when I’m out there, but I’m not out there to kid around. I’m not out there to joke around with hitters.
“At the same time, I’m having fun. It may not look like it, but I’m having fun. I love to pitch, I love everything that there is to pitching. I take everything I do very serious. I want my game to go the way it should be. If it doesn’t, I’m going to be [upset].’’
Is he Bostoned out?
“Yeah, sometimes,’’ he said. “Sometimes I want to strangle myself. It can be intimidating, especially when you have seasons like last year. It’s tough. You know [you’re bad] and your teammates are trying to pick you up and everybody else knows [you’re bad] and you’re trying to break even on the whole deal. You try to live with it and move on.
“If you can play in Boston and survive and do good, I think you can play anywhere.’’
Lester has a well-earned reputation as a mound pouter. When he gets squeezed by an umpire, or just thinks he’s getting squeezed, he’s demonstrative. It’s a terrible habit, and it’s costing him with the blue brigade.
Umpires don’t like getting shown up. Lester has made himself a target. It doesn’t help.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of things I can improve on as far as my on-field actions,” he said. “I know I’ve had some problems with umpires, some problems with body language at times. It’s something I can get better with.
“When you’re out there competing, you’re not really paying attention. There’s sometimes when somebody points out to me, ‘You look like a baby.’ I would rather somebody point that out to me than pat me on the butt and make it seem like it’s OK. I would rather somebody just come up to me and say, ‘This is terrible. You need to change it.’ ’’
OK. Consider it done. This is terrible. You need to change it.
“My dad’s told me that since I was in the fifth grade when I started pitching. It’s always been a problem. It’s gotten better through the years, but it’s something I can always improve on. It’s something I always should be conscious of when I’m pitching.’’
Lester is still only 29 years old. He has a career record of 85-48. He has pitched a no-hitter. He has won the clinching game of the World Series. He has averaged more than 200 innings over the last five seasons. He has a year left on his contract with a club option for 2014.
He has a chance to be Boston’s best player. He was on a track with Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez before he slumped in September 2011 and again last year. Last weekend, when he was asked about moving to the “next level,’’ he reacted defensively.
There is little appetite for defensiveness from Red Sox players in 2013. Nobody wants to hear it. No crying at Fenway this year. Lester was much better prepared Wednesday.
“It’s easy to smile and have a good time when you’re winning,’’ he said. “Anybody can do that. I take my job serious. Every year, my expectations are higher.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be in the position we were in last year. We want to be on top.’’