OAKLAND — Pitching his first major league game for any team other than the Red Sox, Jon Lester beat the Kansas City Royals Saturday, 8-3.
After accepting congratulations from his new teammates and answering questions from the Bay Area media, Lester spoke with a Boston reporter and talked about his final day at Fenway, the hug with John Henry, and the crazy notion that he could return.
“Anything is possible,’’ he said. “Obviously that’s still my family. I still got a lot of guys over there that I consider my family. I think when it comes down to it, if they [Red Sox front office] are competitive and we feel like it’s right, then absolutely, the relationship could continue.’’
The key phrase there is, “if they’re competitive.’’
Red Sox Dreamers are pushing the possibility that the Sox will sign Lester when he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Classic win-win, right? The Sox are so smart they pick up Yoenis Cespedes ANDLester for 2015. How clever of them. That must have been the strategy behind their lowball spring offer to Lester.
Sorry folks. Unless Henry and Co. change their “philosophy,” that ship has sailed. Lester’s price tag is going to be north of $140 million. The length of his next contract is going to push way beyond Henry’s term limits. Sox fans have to accept the new reality that Boston ownership will no longer compete to keep its own prime-time stars. Remember the analytic charts? There’ll be no more long-term deals to players over 30. The Sox have established that they can win (and lose) with a parade of Victorinos, Napolis, Drews, and Ueharas.
Jon Lester belongs to the Oakland A’s now. He’s going back to the postseason. Then he’s going to be a free agent. And unless the Sox change their new fiscal ways, he is not going to re-sign with the Red Sox.
Lester looked good in gold and green. In the ancient, loud, cramped Oakland home clubhouse, his locker is situated between fellow pitchers Dan Otero and Jeff Samardzija. He’s just a few stalls down from former teammate Brandon Moss.
What was it like back in Boston on trade deadline day?
“I got the call around nine in the morning,’’ he said. “We got over to the ballpark after 11 and that was that.’’
What about that awkward hug in the players’ parking lot with Henry?
“It was kind of weird because I didn’t know he wanted to talk to me,’’ said Lester. “I thought he was just saying, ‘Bye,’ and I kind of hugged him and he was like, ‘Well, I still want to talk to you.’ I think the talk went well. I don’t want to give away a lot of it. It was pretty personal. But the coolest part was he told me, ‘You’re a Red Sox forever.’ To me that meant the most. Just kind of like, ‘Hey, we appreciate everything you’ve done. This was a business move, but you’re still a Red Sox and you’ll always be a Red Sox, no matter what happens in the future.’ To me, that was the coolest part.
“I’m not hurt at all. I understand . . . The contract stuff is contract stuff. That stuff is always dicey and can be difficult at times. But I understand what they were trying to do. The relationship is still good. We just couldn’t meet in the middle ground. Once we left spring training I had the mind-set that we weren’t talking anymore. There were no more numbers or years or anything talked about. It was just conversations . . . We all have the regrets of the what-ifs and all that. As an organization, they have to prepare for the future.’’
Unlike Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto — Lester and Jonny Gomes did not have a private jet to whisk them westward. They flew commercial.
“It was a little different feel from those guys,’’ Lester said with a chuckle.
Lester’s parents flew down from Seattle for Saturday’s game, but his wife and kids are back home on the East Coast. In 6⅔ innings against the Royals, Lester allowed nine hits, walked one, and struck out three. Lester improved to 11-7 with a 2.59 ERA.
Oddly, Saturday was Yoenis Cespedes/La Potencia T-Shirt Giveaway day at O.co Coliseum. While Cespedes was getting ready to bat cleanup for the Red Sox at Fenway, the first 10,000 A’s fans were issued green-and-gold jerseys bearing his name.
“I might have to get one of those,’’ said Lester.
Let the record show folks in Oakland love Cespedes. Veteran clubhouse workers, team personnel, lowly writers, and A’s teammates all spoke glowingly of the Cuban star. There’s also a widespread notion that Cespedes will be at his best in the big games.
“He loves the spotlight,’’ said former A’s catcher and current broadcaster Ray Fosse. “The bigger the game, the better he plays. He’ll thrive in that ballpark in that environment.’’
The games in Oakland don’t have the intensity of those at Fenway, but the A’s are in a position where they have to win every day. Oakland is in an All-California battle for first place in the AL West, and neither the Angels nor the A’s like the idea of finishing second and putting their playoff hopes on a one-game playoff against Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. The A’s need Lester and they need him now.
The Royals reached Lester for a run in the third inning, but Oakland blew it open with eight runs in the bottom of the fifth. Gomes had two hits and two RBIs in the breakout inning.
Lester knows what to do with a lead. He threw strikes. When the Royals reached him for two in the seventh, he turned the game over to his bullpen. Walking off, Lester doffed his cap as most of the 30,097 fans stood and applauded.
“To walk off to that ovation was great,’’ he said. “It makes you feel welcome.’’Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.