Lester a winner in Sox return
Lefty completes comeback with six solid innings vs. Tribe
CLEVELAND -- Jon Lester walked into the visitor's clubhouse at 4:31 p.m. ET on Monday, made eye contact with batterymate Jason Varitek and simply smiled. The left-hander had a game to pitch and he would be locked in shortly thereafter. But at that moment, there was nothing not to smile about.
Back in the Major Leagues for the first time since beating a form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma, Lester went about the business of trying to win a baseball game, which he and the Red Sox did by a score of 6-2 over the Indians.
Over six innings and 96 pitches, Lester scattered five hits and allowed two runs -- both on a Grady Sizemore homer -- while walking three and striking out six. Lester's night ended when he induced a 6-4-3 double-play ball out of Franklin Gutierrez
"It felt real good," said Lester. "A lot of emotions, a lot of excitement. It's been good to be back with these guys again and being able to play up here again. I think once my first pitch went, after that it settled down and started to calm down a little bit and I got everything in check."
On a night Lester did his best to hold his emotions in check from the pitcher's mound, his parents let theirs out a little bit more from their seats just a few rows behind the Boston dugout.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Lester reached back for a 93-mph fastball and struck out Sizemore swinging, keeping Boston's three-run lead in check. John and Kathie Lester pumped their fists with excitement in celebrating their son's biggest out in his comeback performance.
"It meant a lot," Lester said of having his parents on hand. "They've been through a lot. It was a long offseason. It was definitely good to have them here and share the fruits of the labor and just enjoy the moment a little bit."
The Red Sox gave Lester the best type of comeback present imaginable, dishing out a four-spot before he even threw a pitch.
"It just eases your mind," Lester said. "Any pitcher loves to get that early lead. It makes it easier to attack hitters. You don't have to nitpick as much. You can go right after guys. You've got four runs to spare and go from there."
Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia led off with singles and Kevin Youkilis walked to load the bases with nobody out in the first. Manny Ramirez, who has been red-hot, belted a two-run double down the line in left. J.D. Drew followed with an RBI single up the middle. Mike Lowell grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, with the lone consolation being that a run scored to make it 4-0.
Back came the Sox for more damage in the second. The sizzling Crisp -- who had four more hits to give him 10 in the last three games -- smashed a double to center and scored on a single to right by Youkilis.
"He looks good," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Crisp. "He's taking some pretty healthy swings. He's not just hitting the fastball right now. He's hitting the ball all over the ballpark."
The Red Sox have been doing a lot of hitting of late. In their four-game winning streak, which has kept the surging Yankees at a deficit of 7 1/2 games in the American League East, the Red Sox have scored 34 runs. This, without David Ortiz, who was out of the lineup again with a left shoulder strain.
The five-run lead was reduced to three when the Sizemore smashed Lester's 0-2 offering over the wall in right for a two-run homer in the third.
"We threw him the cutter and we left it middle in," said Varitek. "Grady's a good athlete. You can make good athletic adjustments."
An inning later, it was Lester who made the athletic adjustment, reaching back and unleashing heat that Sizemore couldn't catch up to.
"As we've seen before, he doesn't give in," Francona said. "He made pitches. Again, the guy took him deep, he got him out. Then he gathered himself for a couple of good innings. He just really competes. Keeps his composure."
And make no mistake about it, Lester was not the only Boston player who had some flooding emotions. His return was a moment the entire team was caught up in.
"I'll admit it, I was nervous for him," said Varitek. "It was good. We were able to jump [ahead] early and get him settled into that game."
Perhaps Lowell was the Boston player who could relate most to what Lester was feeling. Lowell battled testicular cancer in 1999 before bouncing back to have a highly successful career.
"It just shows how human we are," said Lowell. "It's an extra boost. Everyone is rooting for him to do well. We liked him before. You root for him even more now."
The support for Lester was evident from the instant he went out to the bullpen and began warming up.
"Boston fans are unbelievable," said Lester. "It's like a home game anywhere anyway. It was just a good night."
It might be a little bit before Lester truly realizes how good.
"Probably in a day or two it will finally hit home that this happened," said Lester. "Right now, there's a lot of excitement and a lot of happiness."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.