Lester shines in rainy debut
But Sox fall to Rangers after a nearly five-hour delay
BOSTON -- By late Saturday morning, Jon Lester, eagerly awaiting his Major League debut, was in uniform, waiting for that first pitch. The game was supposed to start at 1:25 p.m. ET; That was before rain, rain and more rain interfered, pushing the first pitch of Lester's career all the way back to dinner time -- 6:12.
Lester, Boston's top starting pitching prospect, looked like a Major Leaguer, demonstrating a nasty arsenal of pitches, though he did struggle with his command and had a couple of defensive miscues behind him. At the end of the day, Lester (4 1/3 innings, five hits, three earned runs, four walks, four strikeouts) had a no-decision, but the Red Sox fell to the Rangers, 7-4.
It was a long and soggy day at Fenway, originally supposed to be a day-night doubleheader, but ultimately reduced to just one unrewarding contest for the home nine. The teams will again try to play two on Sunday, with the first game scheduled for noon and the nightcap slated for 5 p.m.
The one thing that stuck out about the marathon day is the way Boston's rookie southpaw, in what was an unenviable situation for any starting pitcher, handled himself.
"He's got good stuff, definitely," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "He kept us in that game. He did a good job for his first time out there. That's a long time for anybody to have to wait, especially to make your debut. He threw a lot of fastballs, he threw cutters, he threw some good curveballs today. I think that he's well on his way to becoming a very good pitcher."
After spending the last few days finalizing logistics for his family to witness his debut, and being forced to spend all those hours on Saturday just waiting to pitch, Lester was relieved when he was finally able to step on that mound before the loudest crowd he's ever pitched in front of.
"Everything fell into place. It was nice to get my family out here, that was kind of a hassle at first, but they got out here safe and sound," Lester said. "It was nice for them to be here and, like I said, Fenway is Fenway, so you can't beat it."
As for the waiting?
"I was trying not to go stir crazy," Lester said. "I was just sitting around and watching TV. I was trying not to think about the game and when they told me to go get ready, I was just trying to hurry up and get out there."
Lester struck out the first batter in his career, getting Gary Matthews Jr. on a 94-mph fastball.
"I was just relieved that I threw a couple of strikes," said Lester. "That was the main thing. I didn't really know where it was going to go, so as long as Varitek caught it, I was happy. But it was nice to get that first out and just kind of calm down after that."
But the Rangers were able to get to him in that first. With two on and two outs, Mark DeRosa lined a 3-2 pitch to left for a two-run double.
Too pumped up? Perhaps.
"There were a couple of pitches I kind of let the crowd influence what I was doing, but for the most part, I stayed within myself and threw the ball fairly well," Lester said.
And he showed his first bit of Major League emotion in the second, striking out the dangerous Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded to end the inning. Lester pumped his fist on his walk back to the dugout, the crowd roaring with each step he took.
"I'm an emotional pitcher," said Lester, 22. "If I am going to get out of a jam like that, well, I'm going to show emotion. If I screw up, then I'm going to show emotion doing that too."
After the Sox tied the game at 2 against Rangers starter John Rheinecker, Texas took the lead back in the fourth on a sacrifice fly to right by Matthews. But the Sox came right back to knot it up again in their half of the inning on a two-out single up the middle by Alex Gonzalez.
With two on and one out in the fifth, Lester was removed from the game because he had thrown 102 pitches.
"I think he showed some of the things we heard about," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Today was not an easy day to make your debut. He sat around and I'm sure he had a lot of anxiety. Now he's just going to have to get comfortable and get in a routine and attack the strike zone with his good stuff."
The Rangers went ahead for good against Sox reliever Julian Tavarez in the seventh, loading the bases with one out and then getting a two-run single down the line at third from Ian Kinsler.
Sox slugger Manny Ramirez again sliced the lead to one with a solo shot -- a screaming liner into the visitor's bullpen -- in the eighth for his 450th career home run. But the Rangers stretched it back out when Hank Blalock pummeled a two-run homer off Keith Foulke in the ninth.
It was Foulke's first appearance since May 31, as the reliever had been battling back woes.
Though the Red Sox lost the game, a man who might be a big part of their future took his first steps. And those fans who waited through the endless delay will likely remember the day.
"He threw some good changeups, good cutters, good breaking balls, and you have to, especially against that ballclub over there," said Francona. "He was able to come back with some offspeed pitches and get some outs, get some strikeouts."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.