David Ross lit a fire under Boston Red Sox starter Jon Lester
No catcher in baseball has been behind the plate working with Jon Lester for more innings than David Ross. The battery mates spent parts of five seasons as teammates during their tenures with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. They share a strong bond that will last forever but even close friends will have the occasional argument.
In the wake of Lester’s retirement this week, Ross took a trip down memory lane for an interview with ESPN. While they share plenty of fond memories from their time as teammates, Ross also recalls that the pair of fiery competitors had their fair share of screaming matches.
One argument that stands out comes from a game at Fenway Park in May of 2014 when the Red Sox hosted the Oakland A’s.
“My favorite one came against Oakland [in 2014],” Ross said. “He had struck out 12 in seven innings. Then he walked the leadoff man in the eighth on four noncompetitive pitches.
“I walked out to the mound and started screaming at him, ‘Are you done?! If you’re done, I’ll let [Red Sox manager John] Farrell know.’ And he’s yelling, ‘We’re not done.’ Then he punched out the next three and ended up striking out 15 on the day.”
The free pass was only the second that Lester had issued in a game where he only allowed one hit over eight shutout innings. His 15 strikeouts were a career-high. This was arguably one of the best performances of Lester’s Red Sox career but Ross still got on his case about a harmless walk with his team leading by six runs.
That shows the ultra-competitive traits that have turned the former catcher into a successful manager for the Cubs. The Red Sox were cruising to victory behind a dominant performance from Lester but Ross didn’t want his starter to blow it by losing focus late in the game. His words sparked Lester to a strong finish as he sent the next three batters down looking at strike three.
Lester’s day was done after that eighth inning but he went out on a high note by setting a personal-best with his 15th strikeout. Chris Capuano relieved Lester for the ninth inning and immediately allowed the A’s to rally with three consecutive hits. The lefty plunked the fourth batter he faced, prompting the Red Sox to send in closer Koji Uehara to bail him out. Boston hung on to win 6-3 but they came dangerously close to spoiling Lester’s gem.
If Ross had strong words for Lester after he issued one walk, we can only imagine what he had to say to Capuano. The veteran pitcher spent about half of that season in Boston’s bullpen before he was traded to the New York Yankees in July.
Capuano wasn’t the only pitcher who the Red Sox moved as the 2014 deadline approached. After the ownership group unforgivably botched negotiations for a contract extension, the spiraling Red Sox were forced to trade Lester to Oakland. Lester would finish the season with the same team he had dominated against months earlier.
The trade separated Lester from Ross but not for long. When Lester signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Cubs prior to the 2015 season, Ross followed him to Chicago. Ross spent the final two seasons of his career as Lester’s teammate with the Cubs and later served as his manager with the club in 2020.
Whether it was as his catcher or his manager, Ross had a knack for motivating Lester when he was on the mound. He always seemed to know what to say to keep the pitcher focused, even if he had to scream it to them.