I approached Thursday’s Red Sox opener at Detroit’s Comerica Park between Jon Lester and Justin Verlander with more than my usual angst. Yes it was Opening Day, holding both all the promise and disaster that a full major league season can bring to the party. It is also, after all, Jon Lester; the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the pitching staff over the past two years. Whereas Josh Beckett is clearly on a steady decline and Clay Buchholz has had fragility issues, Lester is an enigma. He’s young, strong and talented. His stats are very good. His stats could be great and that’s what drives me bonkers. Like true ace great. Like Justin Verlander great.
It was clear early on in the matchup that the great version of Jon Lester had showed up, not the lost focus, bean-balling, walking machine that can make watching a subpar Lester performance so infuriating. I have been critical of Lester the past two years. His obvious talent has been tempered by an equally maddening ability to completely lose it for short to mid-range yet critical stretches.
Verlander was, as expected, excellent. The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner’s command, velocity, pitch selection and pinpoint control were on full display. It was mid-season form on day one (8 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 7 Ks). Verlander is by far my favorite pitcher to watch.
Although Lester gave up lead off singles in the first three innings he otherwise nearly matched Verlander pitch for pitch. He was focused and sharp, had his stuff going (7 IP, 6 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 4 Ks) and displayed a uncanny ability to shut down Tiger hitters when it counted.
As usual, he stared down home plate umpire Dale Scott. He did not, however, let a few questionable calls get in his head but rather used that emotion as fuel to fire his day one mission. Any Sox fan with a brain prays for this kind of steely consistency.
In the end, Lester’s strong outing was squandered after a thrilling Boston comeback in the ninth by a bullpen already in search of an identity. Such is life. Such is baseball. Oh cruel fate! Oh wait, we’ve got a 161 more to go. In that case I’ll chill out, enjoy a couple of home made pizza’s and a frosty adult beverage with friend’s tonight and look forward to an Easter morning brunch in downtown Richmond with my family. And oh, there’s more baseball Saturday afternoon (4:05 pm). Life is good.
A couple of additional Opening Day footnotes:
1. Jonathan Papelbon notched save number one for the Phillies while the combination of Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves couldn’t get it done for the Sox in the 3-2 loss.
2. Former Red Sox pitcher, Justin Masterson, was lights out in the first Opening Day start of his career. Masterson hurled a 2 hit, 10 strikeout, 1 run, 8 complete inning gem and exited the game with a 4-1 lead only to have his bullpen give it all up in the ninth. The Indians would go on to lose 7-4 in 16 innings to Toronto.