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September 29, 2013

Jon Lester a happier, better pitcher heading into Game 1

Improved outlook yields improved results for red-hot Lester

BOSTON — Jon Lester pitched in several big playoff games early in his career.

After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the end of his rookie season in Sept. 2006, the southpaw capped a tremendous recovery approximately 13 months later as the winning pitcher in deciding-Game 4 of the 2007 World Series in St. Louis.

From 2007-09, Lester appeared in eight postseason games (6 starts), posting a 2.57 ERA and even out-dueling current teammate John Lackey, then with the Angels, in an intense 2008 American League Division Series Game 1.

But since ‘09, Lester and the Red Sox haven’t been to the playoffs.

He has gone through some incredible highs (a 3.25 ERA in 2010 and pitching the last three Opening Days) and some incredible lows (being a member of the fried chicken-and-beer clubhouse collapse of 2011 and posting a career-worst 4.82 ERA in 2012).

But Lester finally is back on track and so are the Red Sox. They will look to earn their first playoff win since 2008 when they open the postseason Friday evening at Fenway Park.

He endured a difficult stretch in the middle of this summer which included a 7.62 ERA in five starts in June. But heading into yesterday’s game, Lester had a 2.67 ERA in his 15 starts since the beginning of July.

The southpaw likely will start Game 1 of the ALDS, and right now he appears more relaxed, content and confident than he has been in a long time.

“When you struggle as a group or struggle individually, it’s hard to have fun,” Lester said. “Especially with all kind of the turmoil and distractions and nonsense that was going on last year, it’s hard to show up to the field and enjoy it.

“So I think it’s something we all put behind us at the end of last year and moved on to this year and came in with a new mindset — and I think you’re starting to see where that mindset is taking us.”

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