Six days after taking a line drive off his right knee that left him writhing in pain on the mound at Yankee Stadium, Boston's star southpaw showed no lingering effects Thursday, firing 6 1/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball to headline a 3-0 victory over Cleveland at Fenway Park.
Jason Bay, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis each drove in a run for the Red Sox (92-67), who snapped a six-game losing streak that matched their longest of the season.
Fittingly, the rebound performance was anchored by Lester, who, before being drilled last Friday, surrendered five runs on eight hits over a season-low 2 1/3 innings in a loss to the Yankees.
On Thursday, the 25-year-old workhorse was back to his old self, retiring the first nine batters he faced and allowing just three baserunners while striking out seven.
"You have to take the good with the bad," Lester said. "It's just about coming back and getting back on the hill. That's all you can really do. You can't sit there and think about, 'Well, I gave up so many hits or so many runs in my last start.' I had to think about the Indians and trying to make pitches against them, and I was able to do that."
He certainly did, departing with one out in the seventh and 84 pitches under his belt.
"It was really nice to see him pitch as well as he did, for a lot of reasons," manager Terry Francona said.
"I think it's a relief just to see him pitch again," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "You just don't want him to try to do something different because of an injury. In that sense, we were all very relieved. He was very effective, which is a good thing going into his next start, which is going to be very big for us."
All signs do indeed point to Lester taking the ball in Game 1 of the Red Sox's American League Division Series matchup against the Angels, which kicks off next week.
Regardless of when he pitches next, Lester is confident he'll be ready to go.
"I feel as good as I have in the past," Lester said. "We've got a little bit of time between now and [the postseason]. I'll just try to physically stay sharp and prepared. We'll see what happens when we get there."
A first-inning sacrifice fly from Youkilis put Boston on the board, as his drive to right field off Indians starter Carlos Carrasco (0-4) plated Jacoby Ellsbury from third base.
Making his first start since receiving a Synvisc injection in his right hip Monday, Lowell found himself getting medical treatment on a different body part Thursday after fouling a pitch off his left ankle in the second inning.
X-rays taken after the game were negative, but the third baseman said he will serve as the designated hitter Friday despite sporting a bruise.
"It was a little scary at first," Lowell said. "I was a little nervous when I got in after the game, because it swelled up pretty quick. I'm sure it'll be a little sore [Friday]."
The Red Sox pushed across a pair of insurance runs in the third. With runners on the corners and one out, Ortiz roped a ground ball past second baseman Jamey Carroll to score Victor Martinez.
Thursday marked a reunion of sorts for Martinez, who spent seven-plus seasons with the Indians (65-94) before being acquired by the Sox at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"It was kind of weird," Martinez said of playing against his former mates. "But at the same time, it was fun. For a while, I felt like it was an intrasquad game. It was definitely weird."
Bay capped the third-inning scoring with a ringing RBI single off the Green Monster that delivered Youkilis, but he was gunned down at second base by his counterpart, Cleveland left fielder Matt LaPorta, trying to leg out a double.
Jonathan Papelbon worked a scoreless ninth for his 38th save, closing out a night that belonged to Lester.
"He showed that everything was OK," Martinez said. "He always goes out there and gives us a pretty good chance to win the game, and today was no different."
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.