Jon Lester took the mound on Monday for the Boston Red Sox knowing that he absolutely had to win.
6.1 innings of scoreless baseball later, with the assist of two Daniel Bard seventh inning strikeouts and a four inning save from Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester had gotten the job done.
Where John Lackey and Josh Beckett failed, Jon Lester succeeded. He was able to shutdown the powerful New York Yankee lineup, keeping the Red Sox playoff hopes alive.
“It’s huge. Any win this time of the year is big for us. Being here makes it a little more special. Just keep chipping away,” Jon Lester told reporters after the game.
Lester is right. This was a huge, huge game.
The Red Sox leave New York no worse off than when they showed up, which is not a victory, but certainly not the crushing defeat the Yankees were hoping to dish out.
The Red Sox are now 4 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card standings and 6 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. Not exactly where they wanted to be, but given the circumstances, the Red Sox will take it.
The talk after the game was about Daniel Bard’s seventh inning performance. He came into the game with the bases loaded, one out, and Derek Jeter at the plate. Six pitches later, all strikes, Jeter and Nick Swisher were retired and the Red Sox were out of the inning.
It was a ridiculously impressive string of fastballs, capped off by a 99 mph two-seam fastball that dove down and away and make Nick Swisher look silly. It was one of the most impressive pitches you’ll ever see.
It was so impressive, Bard had to go to the film room to re-watch. Like everyone watching, he was having a hard time believing that pitch actually happened.
The replay confirmed what Bard had already suspected – that it was one hell of a pitch.
Bard ran into trouble in the eighth inning after the adrenaline wore off, giving up a solo home-run to Mark Teixeira, but Papelbon was able to earn him most impressive save of the season, getting four outs, three by strikeout. The last and most impressive strikeout was Teixeira, who represented the winning run while Derek Jeter, who represented the tying run, was stranded at second base.
It was an impressive pitching performance top-to-bottom by the Red Sox. Heck, it was an impressive pitching performance by the Yankees, especially Phil Hughes. It just wasn’t impressive enough on a day when Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon were all on their game.
The Red Sox now set their sites on the Toronto Blue Jays, who are coming off an impressive sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s not getting any easier, but nothing has come easy for the 2010 Boston Red Sox.
Why would we expect it to get easier now?