EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

Lester looking like ace in the playoffs

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Red Sox backup catcher David Ross has played with several hungry-to-win superstars, including the great Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr.

So when Ross said yesterday that Red Sox southpaw starter Jon Lester was one of the top five competitors he’s ever played with ... well, that’s pretty high praise.

“He’s in the top five as far as just wanting to compete,” Ross said. “He expects perfection out of himself and sometimes to a fault.”

Lester — who has a 2.33 ERA in three starts this postseason — will be Boston’s World Series Game 1 starter. He will take the ball tomorrow when the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox commence the 2013 Fall Classic here at Fenway Park (8:07 p.m. first pitch).

Ross said Lester’s drive for perfection could have been one of the left-hander’s downfalls last year. Lester posted a career-worst 4.82 ERA in 2012.

“He gets angry and gets mad when he doesn’t execute or some things go wrong because he’s passionate and I love that about him,” Ross said. “He’s just so passionate about competing.”

Often times last season, Lester looked extremely miserable on the mound as well as in the dugout and clubhouse. He recently told The Eagle-Tribune that it was difficult for him to have fun last year because of not pitching well and dealing with the turmoil that derailed the 2012 season.

Ross, who signed with Boston this past offseason, said, “The things I heard coming over here is how much pressure (Lester) put on himself last year. ... The guy is just a great competitor and great teammate and he wants that responsibility. He’s stepped up for us and been a stud — our horse. And that’s what we expect out of him. We know how good he is.”

It is a safe bet that no matter whether Lester is feeling good or not with throwing certain pitches in any given postseason start, he still will keep the Red Sox in the game. He didn’t have his best stuff in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Tigers, but he still managed to earn the win, allowing two runs in 5.1 innings.

His postseason consistency is clear. In his nine career playoff starts, he has allowed three or fewer runs eight times and two or fewer runs six times. He didn’t allow an earned run his first three playoff starts, including a win in series-clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series. And he boasts a 2.49 career playoff ERA.

Having that kind of consistency from a team’s ace during the postseason isn’t only ideal but necessary.

“You’ve got to have that guy,” Ross said. “You’re not in the postseason without a stud who can lock it down.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell called Lester “a frontline pitcher” when asked about his southpaw’s ability to keep Boston in almost every postseason game he has ever pitched.

“Frontline pitchers do that,” Farrell said. “His preparation doesn’t vary from a physical side of things. So he’s able to maintain his stuff. And I think (his) last start against Detroit was the first time he had gone on his fifth day in about a month and a half, and it kind of showed up a little bit.

“But at the same time, this is a guy who’s a power pitcher,” Farrell added. “Power stuff wins in the postseason. He’s able to get guys out inside the strike zone and not rely on opposing hitters to chase or expand. And because of his physical abilities, that’s what allows him to perform so well in environments (and) games this late in the season.”

Lester trusts himself more than his first couple of years in the big leagues when Farrell said the southpaw was locked into scouting how opposing lineups likely would attack him.

Now, Lester worries mainly about his own approach.

“So he’s trusting in his abilities and establishing himself on the mound initially and then responding to how they adjust to him,” Farrell said. “He’s very much a concrete thinker, and I think he’s become much more at ease with himself and knows that ‘Not everything is in my control and yet, I trust my abilities to perform well.’”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB