SP Jon Lester gave the Boston Red Sox another great start in the first game of the team’s doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, allowing two unearned runs on five hits while walking none and striking out seven. While he was unable to earn his tenth win of the 2014 season in Boston’s 3-2 walk-off win, it was no indication of how the 30-year-old southpaw threw the ball.
It was an ace performance. The Red Sox needed such a start from Lester, coming off being swept by the Chicago Cubs, the most recent defeat a 16-9 embarrassment. And he delivered, going deep into the game, saving the bullpen and giving a performance the clubhouse can rally around.
The type of performance that drove forward the point that Lester must be re-signed by the Red Sox. And the fact he’s still a free agent to be is a travesty.
The pitchers of Lester’s caliber — the bulldogs who you can give the ball to in a big game, and are a shoo-in for 200 innings per season — don’t come a dime-a-dozen. The Red Sox have nobody of that caliber at the moment. Clay Buchholz certainly isn’t that guy. John Lackey‘s a No. 2 starter at best. One of the many prospects they boast could be in the future. But could be that guy is much different than is that guy.
When Lester was asked about his consistency in 2014 following his start last weekend in the New York, he came back saying he felt he’s been pretty consistent the entire time he’s been in Boston.
He isn’t wrong in saying that. Not only has Lester been consistent, he’s consistently been one of the best pitchers in baseball since becoming a full-timer in the Red Sox rotation in 2008. Over that stretch, Lester ranks third in wins (98), eighth in starts (212) and 11th in innings (1,354).
Between 2008-13, Lester averaged 15 wins, 32 starts, 205 innings and 188 strikeouts per season. He’s on track for 35 starts, 231 innings and 231 strikeouts in 2014, in which he’s posted a 2.73 ERA through 18 starts, allowing just eight home runs and holding opposing hitters to a .651 OPS.
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 24o pounds, Lester has the frame of a pitcher capable of having a long, sustained career, who can give innings and starts at a high level into his late 30s.
Save for a bout with cancer in 2006, Lester has been as durable as any pitcher in baseball. His beating the disease, then winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series less than one year later is a tribute of the bulldog mentality he carries on and off the mound. The killer instinct that every great pitcher carries with him. A quality more important than any pitch the given hurler may possess.
There aren’t many pitchers like Lester in the game of baseball. There are no pitchers like Lester in the Red Sox organization, at least at the moment.
Red Sox Nation can bid goodbye and good riddance to Lester if he chooses to chase bigger money in another town following the season, similar to Jacoby Ellsbury when he signed a $153 million deal with the New York Yankees this past offseason. But like we’ve learned in the wake of Ellsbury’s departure, you can let a player walk, but you have to be able to replace him.
There is no replacing Jon Lester.
Red Sox brass can play hardball all they want. But if Lester walks, he’ll be the one who gets the last laugh, both in the wallet and on the field.
Like they say, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.