Jon Lester retires 22 of last 23 to become the first Sox lefty to throw a no-hitter in 52 years

Jon Lester retires 22 of last 23 to become the first Sox lefty to throw a no-hitter in 52 years

(May 19, 2008) – Call it May Magic. Jon Lester became the first Red Sox left hander since Mel Parnell, on July 14, 1956, to throw a no-hitter in tonight’s 7-0 win against the Kansas City Royals. On this unnaturally, cool mid-May night Lester allowed just two Royal batters to reach base against him, Billy “The Big Donkey” Butler in the second and Esteban German in the ninth.

Baseball is a funny game. Last year around this time, Lester was down in Pawtucket trying to make his comeback from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Then on a cool, fall night in Denver, Colorado Lester became the pitcher of record when the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years. Now that same young pitcher who suffered a catastrophic illness less than two years ago has become the fifth Sox left hander to throw a no hitter.

The Sox offense provided Lester with the runs he needed to perform his Monday Night Magic in the bottom of the third inning. J.D. Drew led off the inning with a line drive single into right field. Trying to stay out of the double play, Drew and catcher Jason Varitek perfected the hit-and-run when the captain lined a based hit into left field, sending Drew to third. If it was for the hit-and-run Varitek’s single would have been an easy 6-4-3 double play with two outs in the inning but with Drew off on the pitch, it pulled Royals shortstop Tony Pena, Jr. out of position; thus giving up a base hit to Varitek.

Number nine hitter shortstop Julio Lugo made the first two outs of the inning with a ground ball to Pena for the 6-4-3 double play but not before Drew came in the back door with the first run of the game. With two outs, Royals starter Luke Hochevar thought he would be able to “minimize the damage” (I will never be able to get that out of my head. Thanks Coach!) by allowing just one run and keeping KC in the game. But that was not going to happen. Lester was in the zone and so was the Red Sox offense.

Rookie Jacoby Ellsbury – who just four months older than Lester – kept the inning alive with a triple over the head of Royals center fielder David DeJesus. Hochevar continued to struggle, walking the bases loaded (Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz) before walking Manny Ramirez to put the Sox up 2-0 and getting the first RBI of the game. (Statistical rules state that a player who grounds into a double play but drives in a run will not be credited with an RBI. Do not mess with SIDs.)

The Royals defense would shoot themselves in the foot with third baseman Mike Lowell at the plate. At the lowest forms of organized baseball, kindergarten tee-ball, children are taught “two hands when you catch the ball, two hands.” It is one of the fundamentals of baseball but it seems that many of our major leaguers have forgotten what they have learned as five year olds. And tonight veteran, Gold Glove second baseman Mark Grudzielanek made the infamous error to keep the inning alive when he let a routine pop up by Lowell clank off his glove, scoring two runs. First baseman Kevin Youkilis was the ninth hitter to bat in the inning and lined a Hochevar offering into right center that was fading away from DeJesus for a double, plating Ramirez.

Those were plenty of runs for the Sox lefty but Varitek felt the need to add two more runs three innings later with his fifth homerun of the season driving Drew to give the Red Sox the 7-0 lead. But the story and focus of the game was Lester. He flirted with a no-hitter earlier this season against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 29 at Fenway, pitching eight scoreless innings before turning the game over to Jonathan Papelbon with the game tied 0-0. In that game the Sox pulled out the 1-0 win the in bottom of the ninth, giving Papelbon his first win of the season.

But tonight was his night and he was on his game. He was one strike out shy of matching his single game high with nine strike outs. Lester struck out 10 National batters on June 21, 2006, 11 days after his Major League Debut against the Texas Rangers on Saturday June 10, 2006. If what everyone says is true, “our legacies are marked by our entrances and exits” then Jon Lester is going to have a good one to tell his grandchildren when he is 75 years old. With a one-hitter and no-hitter in the same season and a World Series clinching win under his belt, he is on his way to have a good career in the majors.

The Sox will return to action against the Royals tomorrow night when the young 23-year-old Justin Masterson makes his second career start. Masterson was re-called from Pawtucket earlier today to make the start for the injured Clay Buchholz. To make room for Masterson on the roster the Red Sox optioned Chris Smith back to Pawtucket. The last time he was in Boston he pitched six innings allowing just one run on two hits while striking out four and walking four before the Boston bullpen imploded for the 7-5 loss. Masterson will be opposed by the Royals right hander Gil Meche. On the season, Meche is 3-5 with a 5.98 ERA with 35 strike outs 19 walks and a 1.48 WHIP.

WIN: Jon Lester (3-2)

LOSS: Luke Hochevar (3-3)


Game Notes:

Since 1969, the Red Sox are 195-205 against the Royals but are 16 games over .500 while in the friendly confines of Fenway Park against Kansas City at 108-92.

Keep an eye on the Royals 24-year-old third baseman, Alex Gordon. In his sophomore season he has come around and has a good shot at being selected for the 2008 American League All Star team with lack of all star talent at the position this year. On the season, Gordon is hitting .286 with five homeruns and 20 RBIs and has an OPS of .799, trailing only Chicago’s Joe Crede for the AL lead at third.

Sox left handed set-up man Hideki Okajima told Terry Francona his sore left wrist is fine and available in tonight's game to pitch.

The 3 Stars of the Game:

  1. Jon Lester, BOSTON ---- 9IP, 0H, 0R, 9K, 2BB
  1. Jason Varitek, BOSTON --- 2-3; Homerun, 2 RBIs
  1. J.D. Drew, BOSTON ---- 1-3; 2 Runs-scored

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