DETROIT — Jon Lester arrived for a news conference on Wednesday afternoon with his cap pulled down just above his eyes and a serious expression on his face. The lefthander looked ready to pitch a day before he takes the mound.
Lester has a 2.41 earned run average in 10 career postseason appearances. He pitched in the World Series at age 23 and has become accustomed to the intensity it requires.
The Red Sox will start Lester in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on Thursday night, hoping he can repeat his performance in Game 1.
The lefthander allowed one run on six hits over 6⅓ innings but took the loss as the Red Sox were held to one hit in a 1-0 loss. Manager John Farrell is expecting more of the same from Lester.
“I can’t say that the games in which he’s pitched in the playoffs have been that much different than games we’ve seen throughout the course of the year,” Farrell said. “His work between starts, that’s what allows Jon to perform with the consistency and level he does.”
Lester was 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his final 13 starts of the regular season and followed that up with strong starts against the Rays and Tigers in the postseason, allowing three runs over 14 innings.
Farrell said it starts with Lester’s ability to command his fastball.
“He’s gained that consistency and the confidence with it, I think he’s become a more relaxed pitcher on the mound, which enables him to pitch more freely from a physical standpoint,” the manager said. “I think that’s why we’re seeing the velocity climb and it’s made his pitches more effective.”
Said Lester: “You’ve got to have good command of your fastball down [in] the zone on both sides. For whatever reason, whether it was just that little extra time after the break, just physically felt better within each game. Fastball command has been pretty good since.”
Lester doesn’t believe either side has a marked advantage when a pitcher sees a team twice in a span of six days.
“I think you have to take it collectively,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve had some righthanded pitchers out there, so I’ve got to look at that a little bit differently than I would if we had some lefties out there . . . Look at some pitching that’s worked. These guys are smart hitters, they know how I’ve gotten them out in the past and they know how they’ve gotten hits in the past.”
Price you pay
The Red Sox have struck out 53 times in the first four games of the series. But Farrell said the team has come to accept that as a cost of doing business.
The Sox were eighth in the majors in strikeouts during the regular season, averaging just over eight a game. But they also scored the most runs and had the highest OPS.
“We walked a lot of times as well,” Farrell said. “Because we get deep in the count you’re going to be hitting with two strikes a lot. Strikeouts are part of it.”
The Red Sox have not used a strict platoon in left field in the postseason, giving Jonny Gomes two starts against righthanders Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. But Daniel Nava was back in left field for Game 4. He was 1 or 3 before Gomes pinch hit in the eighth inning and popped up . . . Brandon Workman, Ryan Dempster, Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront combined on five innings of scoreless relief. The Red Sox bullpen has allowed two runs in 24⅓ innings in the postseason . . . Xander Bogaerts’s double in the eighth inning made him the youngest player (21) to get a postseason hit for the Red Sox . . . The Red Sox have led for only four of the 36 innings in the series . . . David Ortiz is 1 for 15 in the series, although the one hit was his game-tying grand slam in Game 2 . . . The Sox have scored only nine runs in the first four games of the series and are hitting .186 . . . Jacoby Ellsbury was 4 for 5 with a double and a triple and is 14 of 33 (.424) in the postseason.
John Lackey shut the Tigers down into the seventh inning in Game 3 on Tuesday and Mike Napoli hit the decisive home run. But the play that really had some Red Sox executives smiling was Junichi Tazawa’s strikeout of Miguel Cabrera with two runners on in the eighth inning.
Tazawa’s success was an organization-wide project. He was evaluated by their international scouts, developed for three seasons in the minors and guided through a year of rehabilitation following elbow surgery.
Initially a starter, Tazawa converted to the bullpen in 2011 and became a reliable late-inning option.
Tazawa went into Game 4 on Wednesday having thrown 3.1 scoreless innings in the postseason over six appearances.
“Any time that you can point to guys that have been signed, developed and are key members of a playoff team, a lot of people share in that,” Farrell said.
“When you look at what the Cardinals have done with 17 guys of their that are [from the farm system], the higher number of homegrown players, there’s a lot to be said for that. Players that are in their original organization, I think there’s another dimension. There’s not only personal ownership to the organization that the player feels. It might come across as a little more competitive spirit.”
Shane Victorino tried to throw Jose Iglesias out at first base from right field in the eighth inning. Iglesias looked annoyed and waved off Victorino . . . Craig Breslow is one of 10 players nominated for the 49th annual Hutch Award, named for former major league player and manager Fred Hutchinson. The award, which will be presented Jan. 30 in Seattle, recognizes honor, courage and dedication. Lester is a former winner . . . Jake Peavy donated $2,000 ($500 for each of the four strikeouts by Red Sox pitchers) to the Jimmy Fund in memory of his late grandmother, and former Padres coach Darrel Akerfelds. Peavy also matched that amount with a contribution to the American Heart Association in memory of umpire Wally Bell, who died on Monday. Peavy struck out just one in three innings.