Fame from no-hitter makes Lester uneasy
By Howard Ulman
BOSTON ó Jon Lester just wants to be treated as a normal pitcher.
That was tough when he had cancer. It became harder when he won the deciding game of the World Series. Then, on Monday night, the Red Sox lefty pitched the only no-hitter in the majors so far this season.
Lester could have been known as the pitcher who was traded for Johan Santana.
iIím real happy Iím here,î Lester said Tuesday after a restless night and plenty of text messages. iIím glad it didnít happen. But if it did happen, youíre part of a trade for the best pitcher in baseball. Itís not a bad thing to be in.î
Lester, 24, was the centerpiece of offseason talks between Boston and Minnesota. Santana eventually went to the New York Mets and Lester ended up starting the second game of the season in Tokyo against the Oakland Aís.
Thatís the next team heíll pitch against, on Sunday in Oakland, and thatís the game heís focusing on.
iIn six days, I want to be treated like anybody else,î Lester said. iI just want to go out there and pitch and, hopefully, pitch well against the Aís and move on and pitch against the next opponent.î
For now, the repercussions of his gem in a 7-0 victory against Kansas City continue.
The Hall of Fame was given a game-used baseball, Lesterís cleats and the catching equipment of Jason Varitek, who caught his major-league record fourth no-hitter.
Lester appeared on a television show in which cancer survivor Lance Armstrong called in. Lester even was asked at a news conference about Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor Tuesday.
iObviously, my prayers are with him and his family and hopefully everything turns out all right,î Lester said. iFight it and try to get back to as normal as you can.î
Lester missed the end of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkinís lymphoma, and he started only 11 games in 2007.
He pitched 52/3 scoreless innings in the fourth game of the World Series, and Boston completed a four-game sweep of Colorado.
Aaron Cook, who started against Lester in that game, also came back from a serious health problem. He had surgery in 2004 to remove a rib that was pressing against a vein and causing life-threatening blood clots.
iItís not always easy to get over a life-threatening anything and make it back to pitch as an elite pitcher in the big leagues,î Cook said after learning of Mondayís no-hitter. iThatís very impressive what he was able to do.
iHeís got great stuff. Heís got confidence, and he just goes out there and attacks the hitters. I think thatís the main thing to be successful in the big leagues, trusting your stuff and going after guys.î
Lester did that with an overpowering fastball, his hardest since 2005, he said.
He also got into a quicker tempo between pitches. Heís been working with pitching coach John Farrell to do that rather than take too much time analyzing each pitch before throwing again, a problem that itakes a lot out of the fielders,î who arenít as well prepared as they would be with a quicker pace, Lester said.
iItís changed my game a lot,î he said. iItís helped me take a lot of bad thoughts out of my head in between pitches.î
Lester is 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA this season. In his last five starts, heís 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA.
On Monday, he allowed just two runners on walks and struck out nine, including Albert Callaspo to end the game. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s.
iHe was throwing 95 (mph) a couple of years ago before the sickness,î Farrell said. iIt looks like itís back.î
Lester usually has trouble sleeping after he pitches, and the excitement of his no-hitter added to that. He spoke with his parents. His mother, Kathie, watched the game on her computer at home. His father, John, who gets nervous when his son pitches, spent part of the game in his garage.
Boston manager Terry Francona got the phone number of Lesterís dad from Jon but dialed a wrong number.
iI was congratulating somebody that had no idea what I was talking about,î Francona said. iIím just jumping right into the conversation. I could tell, boy this guyís not being very friendly. … I realized I wrote a 7 instead of a 9.î
Lesterís phone will get less use as the days go on and the congratulatory calls stop.
And thatís just fine with a special pitcher who longs for normalcy.
iI just wanted to be a normal guy and go out there and pitch and get criticized for my pitching,î he said, iand not, ëOh, he had cancer, so weíll go easy on him.í î
Francona has no intention of doing that.
iWe kind of had our enjoyment, and we really truly do move on,î he said before Tuesdayís game against the Royals. iI saw him in the (dugout) tunnel and said, ëYouíre going to the weight room, right?í Yep. Thatís what we do, and I think thatís how you are good.î
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