You know, Lester pitches all the time. And I watch him pitch, and I know that he’s a human being. But it’s kind of hard to reconcile that fact with what you see him do. He’s a human being, but he pitches like he’s superhuman. Like pitching is the easiest thing in the world. Like it’s no big deal to be truly amazing at throwing one of the best cut fastballs in all of baseball.
Yesterday, we almost witnessed something spectacular. We almost couldn’t believe our eyes even though we knew that we were watching every second of it. We almost stared incredulously as Jon Lester tossed the second no-hitter of his career.
But forget about the no-hitter. What Jon Lester did yesterday almost left that in the dust. We almost saw Jon Lester pitch a perfect game.
Maicer Izturis doubled in the sixth. There were two outs, and it was the first pitch of the at-bat: an eighty-seven mile-per-hour changeup. The ball ended up in left field, and Lester’s no-hitter evaporated just like that. It would have been even more painful had it come in the ninth, and there are pitchers who could tell you what that’s like. That would have been completely devastating. But this wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either. It was awful. It was the only blemish on Lester’s line for the entirety of the game. That was the one thing standing between Lester and a perfect game. At least, had it been a walk, he would still have been able to pick up a no-no. But it was a hit, and both bids were crushed instantly.
Thank about that for a minute, though. Lester faced twenty-eight batters during the game. That’s it. Twenty-eight batters. That means that he didn’t give up a hit or issue a walk before that double, and he didn’t give up a hit or issue a walk after it. It’s not uncommon for pitchers who’ve just had their no-hitter bids broken to implode. But Lester didn’t do that. It was like nothing happened. It didn’t affect him at all. To prove it, he retired the next ten batters he faced, just like he retired his first seventeen.
I’m going to take this inning by inning because I want very much to relive the moments. Needless to say, the sixth inning was the only inning in which Lester faced more than three batters. In the first, Lester induced two flyouts and a groundout. In the second, he induced two groundouts and a swinging strikeout. In the third, he induced a lineout, a swinging strikeout, and a groundout. In the fourth, he induced two groundouts and a flyout. In the fifth, he induced two groundouts and a popout. In the sixth, aside from the double, he induced a lineout, a flyout, and a swinging strikeout. In the seventh, he induced two groundouts and a popout. In the eighth, he induced a flyout, a groundout, and a lineout. In the ninth, he issued two called strikeouts and a groundout. Sensing a pattern? The Jays have homered a lot this year, but Lester never let the ball get off the ground.
He threw six pitches in the first, thirteen in the second, twelve each in the third and fourth, fifteen in the fifth, twenty in the sixth, fourteen in the seventh, seven in the eighth, and nineteen in the ninth. To close the deal on his strikeouts, he used changeups, sinkers, and mostly, of course, cut fastballs. His cut fastball was absolutely lethal yesterday. It was the epitome of everything a cut fastball should be, and Lester was the epitome of everything a pitcher should be. He put the exact amount of movement on the ball, his release point was consistent, and his command, efficiency, and control were unparalleled.
I suppose that the seventh inning is really when it starts to occur to everyone that a no-hitter may be in progress. If the hit came in the sixth inning and if there were more afterwards, then it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal; no-hitting the Jays through six would have just been Lester being Lester, an impressive feat for any other pitcher but business as usual for him. The fact that Lester didn’t let the hit get to him at all, in any way whatsoever, is part of why Lester’s start yesterday was so absolutely amazing.
Obviously, we won; it’s difficult not to win when your pitcher shuts out the opposing team for a full nine innings. We got on the board until the second, when Nava walked and scored when Middlebrooks reached on a force attempt. We turned the order over in the seventh; Ellsbury, Victorino, and Pedroia hit back-to-back-to-back singles to lead it off, scoring one. Two strikeouts later, Nava and Salty hit back-to-back doubles, scoring three.
And that was all we needed. It was a clean, crisp, five-zip win. I will say this about the offense. We had a runner on base in every single inning but clearly didn’t score during all of them and certainly didn’t take advantage of a prime opportunity to really mount a lopsided outcome. Instead, we left fourteen men on base, and we went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position before Pedroia singled in the seventh.
But this is Lester’s moment now. He threw 118 pitches in the whole game, a season high and a much-needed effort to give the bullpen the day off. I am so crushingly disappointed that Lester didn’t get the perfect game. So epically crushingly disappointed. But it would be a disservice to what Lester did achieve to continue bemoaning that fact. At the end of the day, it was a clean, crisp, five-zip win, and Lester mowed them down like grass.
In other news, the Bruins dropped one to the Leafs, 2-1.