Reflecting on one of the great pitching performances in Boston Red Sox history when Jon Lester threw a no-hitter against the Royals.
2008 was a breakout year for Jon Lester. He made a name for himself the previous fall with a brilliant performance in the decisive Game 4 of the World Series but the following year was the fist time he put together a full season that proved he was the emerging ace of the Boston Red Sox rotation.
If there was a moment from that breakout campaign that we can point to as the turning point that launched Lester into the ace conversation, it was the no-hitter he threw on May 19, 2008 against the Kansas City Royals.
Lester entered that day 2-2 with a 3.95 ERA through 10 starts. He had tallied nearly as many walks (29) as strikeouts (33) over 57 innings to begin the season. Decent numbers but nothing to get excited about. That perception was about to change.
David DeJesus led off the game for Royals by driving an opposite field shot that sent left fielder Manny Ramirez backpedaling to the warning track. That harmless fly out would be the hardest ball hit off of Lester that day.
The closest that the Royals came to threatening Lester was drawing a pair of walks, the first of which came with one out in the second inning. Billy Butler was wiped out on a fielder’s choice on the very next play as Lester managed to keep the Royals from entering scoring position.
Every pitcher who has thrown a no-hitter has to give some credit to the defense behind them and Lester wouldn’t have celebrated history without some great glove work from his teammates.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis picked a sharp line drive destined for shallow right field for the first out in the third inning. Julio Lugo followed by charging in on a chopper to shortstop, fielding the ball on a tough hop and firing it over to first to beat the runner by fractions of a second.
Not every out required an assist from the defense. Lester struck out nine, including the final batter of the game. Lester got ahead in the count 1-2. Alberto Callaspo spoiled the next pitch by fouling it off but Lester got him to chase one up in the zone for strike three.
"“Callaspo strikes out! Jon Lester has thrown a no-hitter at Fenway,” shouted NESN commentator Don Orsillo."
It was the 18th no-hitter in franchise history and the first since Clay Buchholz had done it in September 2007 in his second career start. This marked the first time since the 1974 California Angels that the last two no-hitters in the majors came from the same team.
Red Sox pitchers have thrown four no-hitters since the turn of the century but the one by Hideo Nomo in 2001 was the first the franchise had seen since Dave Morehead in 1965. Derek Lowe also recorded one in 2002.
Jason Varitek was behind the plate for the last four Red Sox no-hitters, setting a major league record for the most no-hitters caught.
Lester threw a season-high 130 pitches in this outing and the nine strikeouts would end up matching the most he recorded in any start that year.
The shutout lowered Lester’s ERA to 3.41. He would allow three runs or fewer in 10 of his next 12 starts, including another shutout against the Yankees in July. It wasn’t a no-hitter but it was nearly as impressive considering the lineup he faced in the Bronx. Lester led the majors with two shutouts that season but he’s recorded a total of only three more in his career since then.
Lester finished the 2008 season 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. It would be two more years before he gained recognition as an All-Star and Cy Young contender but by his third season we could already see Lester developing into an ace.
There are plenty of highlights from Lester’s nine seasons with the Red Sox. His postseason dominance will always be fondly remembered in Boston but this no-hitter stands out for the rarity of the occasion and for the performance being arguably the greatest to his career.