BOSTON — Only one of the starting pitchers in Wednesday night's World Series Game 1 has been here before. He started a World Series game and won it. A World Series-clinching game, no less.
And it's not Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, who has only pitched as a reliever in the World Series. Fans of the Boston Red Sox know, of course, that we're describing Jon Lester, who won Game 4 of the 2007 World Series and will face Wainwright in Game 1 this year.
If you listen to the chatter about the starting pitching in this year's World Series, it's Cardinals, Cardinals, Cardinals. They have Wainwright, of course, who has reached elite status. Then there's young Michael Wacha, 22, having been thrust into the biggest situations of his baseball life after half a season in the big leagues.
In the Red Sox's previous series against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, it was the same thing. The Tigers and their pitchers received all the hype. Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, they were so unhittable. It's enough to cast Jon Lester, a guy with a career 2.49 ERA in the postseason, as an underdog.
"I don't really pay attention to it much," Lester says. "We've been the underdog since day one. I think we were expected to finish last in the East. Kind of like last year, go home with our tails between our legs. We'll take every challenge we can, and don't worry about being underdogs or not. Just go out and compete like we've done all year."
Truth is, both Game 1 starters have been great this postseason — Wainwright has a 2-1 record and a 1.57 ERA and Lester is 2-1 record with a 2.33 ERA.
For the record: Wainwright did earn a World Series victory in his 2006 relief outing. And he deserves all the praise he gets. He's the horse pulling this Cardinals staff of upstarts and flame-throwers.
But Lester deserves more praise than he's getting these days. He's 29, he's beaten cancer and he just won his 100th career regular-season game. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds with an intense stare and a business-like approach. Yet he's not even the most talked-about pitcher on his own team.
Six years ago, Lester was the young star getting praised like the young Cardinals. He was 23 when he won that World Series game. Now he's matured enough that his second World Series start isn't just any ol' game. He's the ace starting Game 1.
"Obviously [Wednesday] there will still be some nerves, there will still be all that to be expected," Lester says. "But I think I know who I am a little bit more as a pitcher and what to expect from myself and what to expect from the crowd, and all the different things that go along with getting a start in the World Series.
"We talk about every start is a learning experience, and if I can go back to that one and draw something, that will hopefully help me [Wednesday], then that would be great."
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