EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 30, 2008

Lester passes a big test


BOSTON — The Red Sox needed that.

Jon Lester really, really needed that.

While the Red Sox losing streak of five games ended dramatically here at Fenway Park, beating Toronto 1-0 on a walk-off single by Kevin Youkilis, Lester's personal streak of walks, mediocrity and frustration ended emphatically.

The winning pitcher in the World Series clincher in October, Lester has been all over the map this season, good, so-so, decent and a few more so-so performances.

While Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz have had some recent terrific performances, Lester has been anything but.

Remember, this was the guy the Red Sox refused to add to the deal with the Twins for Johan Santana. In case you're wondering, ladies, the Sox were willing to deal Jacoby Ellsbury, with a few other talented youngsters, ahead of Lester.

But general manager Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona, pitching coach John Farrell and catcher Jason Varitek apparently saw something we haven't been able to see through so many of Lester's walk-laden, frustrating efforts.

Part of the problem is age. Lester turned 24 in January. Add in the fact that he has been compared to Sandy Koufax — OK, I realize it was flighty Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez who made the comparison — and expectations can sometimes be unrealistic.

"The thing I really like about him is he appears to want to be great," said Varitek, whose voice is still about half of its normal volume due to the flu bug that had him bedridden for four days.

"But he's still learning. He's learning about himself. Heck, I'm still learning about him."

As we saw last night, Lester has a very good fastball and a good slider. He's been flirting with a change-up this season and last night he threw as many as he has thrown all year.

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