There the left-hander was in the bullpen warming up with catcher Jason Varitek, and he had nothing. How was he going to thrive against the Royals when it seemed like all his pitches had stayed home?
As it turns out, Lester knows a thing or two about perseverance. And on this night, he stayed the course well enough to throw a no-hitter, the 18th in the history of the Red Sox.
"If you all saw my bullpen [session] today, it wasn't pretty," said Lester. "You would have thought I wouldn't have gotten out of the first inning. It was terrible. I got out in the game and I've always been a slow starter. If I can get through the first, second, third, sometimes the fourth inning and be doing all right, then usually I can do all right into the game and get stronger. That was the case. I just felt more comfortable with my delivery, more comfortable with the stuff I was throwing."
With each passing inning, Lester (two walks, nine strikeouts) became filthier and filthier.
It all came to a jubilant end when Lester blew a 94-mph heater -- his 130th pitch of the night -- by Alberto Callaspo. Just like that, the 7-0 victory was complete, so was Lester's no-no, not to mention the first complete game and the first shutout of his career.
Varitek lifted his pitcher off the ground as if the Red Sox had just won the World Series. From there, a mob of white jerseys mobbed Lester.
The joy couldn't have been any more genuine considering how tough it was on Lester, his teammates and the entire organization when the lefty was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma some 20 months ago. As if winning Game 4 of the World Series last fall wasn't enough of a fairy tale for Lester, now he has a no-hitter under his belt.
"It's something that I'll remember forever, a lot of excitement," said Lester, who is 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA. "I think I had more adrenaline going in the ninth inning than I did in the first inning, which I guess is normal for that situation. It was great. The fans were great; they're on their feet yelling and screaming. It was probably one of the loudest times I've heard Fenway when I've been out there pitching."
It was every bit as loud as Sept. 1, 2007, when another homegrown product of the Red Sox organization named Clay Buchholz reeled off a no-hitter against the Orioles.
"I was trying to think along with him," said Buchholz. "But I think I was a little more nervous for his than I was for mine, because I had more time to think about it."
It was the fourth no-no of the 21st century for the Sox, as Lester joined Hideo Nomo (2001), Derek Lowe ('02) and Buchholz. By catching all four of them, Varitek went into the Major League record books on Monday, surpassing several receivers who caught three no-hitters.
|"It's something that I'll remember forever, a lot of excitement. I think I had more adrenaline going in the ninth inning than I did in the first inning, which I guess is normal for that situation. It was great. The fans were great; they're on their feet yelling and screaming. It was probably one of the loudest times I've heard Fenway when I've been out there pitching."|
|-- Jon Lester|
"I'm very fortunate," said Varitek. "It's so exciting to be a part of one as a catcher."
Speaking of fortune, Lester got some in the fourth, when center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury went on a full-out sprint before making a diving catch to rob Jose Guillen of a hit.
"After the catch, I actually realized he had a no-hitter going," said Ellsbury.
In a way, Lester's performance was a matter of routine dominance. He was mowing hitters down with such smooth precision that Varitek actually lost track of the type of history that was unfolding.
"I didn't even really know we had a no-hitter until after the seventh," Varitek said. "I kind of looked up in the seventh and saw he was around 100 pitches and thought, he did his job. And I kind of glanced in the bullpen and saw nobody warming up and thought, 'That's kind of weird.' Then I looked back and saw [the zero]. It was good."
Lester's only early blemish was a walk to Billy Butler with one out in the second. There wouldn't be another baserunner until the ninth when Lester walked Esteban German to lead off the inning. A groundout by Tony Pena served as the first out. David DeJesus put Lester on the precipice with a groundout to first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
And then, the grand finale against Callaspo. By the time Lester held court with the media, the final sequence was all but a blur.
"It really hasn't sunk in," said Lester. "Right now, it feels like I pitched and we won the game. I think it's like the World Series. It takes a while for this to set in and give you time to reflect on it. I guess it's one of those things you get to enjoy later."
Lester didn't need much in the way of offensive support, but the Red Sox gave him plenty to work with by breaking out for five runs in the bottom of the third. They scored two more in the sixth.
Red Sox no-hitters
|Jon Lester became the 18th pitcher in Red Sox history -- and just the fifth left-hander -- to throw a no-hitter on Monday vs. the Royals. It was also the first complete game of his career.|
|May 19, 2008||Jon Lester||Kansas City|
|Sept. 1, 2007||Clay Buchholz||Baltimore|
|April 27, 2002||Derek Lowe||Tampa Bay|
|April 4, 2001||Hideo Nomo||Baltimore|
|Sept. 16, 1965||Dave Morehead||Cleveland|
|Aug. 1, 1962||Bill Monbouquette||Chicago|
|June 26, 1962||Earl Wilson||Los Angeles|
|July 14, 1956||Mel Parnell||Chicago|
|Sept. 7, 1923||Howard Ehmke||Philadelphia|
|June 3, 1918||Dutch Leonard||Detroit|
|June 23, 1917||Ernie Shore||Washington|
|Aug. 30, 1916||Dutch Leonard||St. Louis|
|June 21, 1916||George Foster||New York|
|July 29, 1911||Smokey Joe Wood||St. Louis|
|June 30, 1908||Cy Young||New York|
|Sept. 27, 1905||William Dinneen||Chicago|
|Aug. 17, 1904||Jesse Tannehill||Chicago|
|May 5, 1904||Cy Young||Philadelphia|
From there, the game's only drama revolved around Lester.
"At first, I didn't think he was really feeling it until the third, fourth, fifth inning when he started going. Then his breaking balls and everything else started coming along for him," said Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. "He's one of those guys who just doesn't throw a straight ball. His cutter and his curve and he goes in and out. He and Varitek were in sync today, obviously."
By the ninth inning, manager Terry Francona was trying to keep it together in the dugout. He admitted it wasn't easy.
"I looked up in the ninth, and you're trying to keep your emotions in check and I went to say something to [pitching coach] John Farrell, and he was being a big baby next to me. It made me feel a little bit better," said Francona.
Though he's just 24 years old, Lester has already experienced more highs and lows than most 15-year veterans. A cancer recovery followed by a World Series clincher and a no-hitter?
"It's hard to describe," Lester said. "I think they're both definitely up there. I can't tell you which one means more to me than the other. The World Series is obviously the World Series. How many people get to say they won that. A no-hitter is a no-hitter. How many people can say they've done that? They're both up there. They both mean a heck of a lot to me. It's something I'll cherish for a long time."
And Lester's teammates -- particularly his closer ones -- will enjoy it every bit as much.
"It's like divine intervention," said Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. "I know it's been two years since the whole cancer thing, but it's pretty cool to watch something like that, and I know he kind of had that last year winning the final game of the World Series, but this is another feat, more personal one that maybe winning the World Series. It's great. He's always had the talent and now it's starting to show."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.