It’s difficult to imagine what the 24-year-old left-hander could possibly do now for an encore.
Five days after his no-hitter, Lester takes the mound for the Red Sox as they seek to avoid being swept in their three-game weekend set against the Oakland Athletics at McAfee Coliseum.
Lester (3-2, 3.41 ERA) arrived in the majors as a highly-touted prospect for Boston, but missed the end of his 2006 rookie season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He overcame the cancer and worked his way back to the big leagues last season, which culminated Oct. 28 when he shut out Colorado for 5 2-3 innings to earn the win as Boston swept the World Series.
Then, Lester struck out nine Kansas City Royals and issued only two walks in Boston’s 7-0 win Monday, becoming the first major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter since teammate Clay Buchholz did it last Sept. 1.
“I can’t tell you which one means more to me than the other,” Lester said. “The World Series is, obviously, the World Series. How many people get to say they’ve won that? And a no-hitter is a no-hitter. How many people can say they’ve done that?
“So they’re both up there. They both mean a heck of a lot to me, and something I’ll cherish for a long time.”
He’ll take the mound in Oakland with an extra day of rest, but will be watched carefully after throwing a career-high 130 pitches in his Monday masterpiece. Lester, though, feels he’s ready.
“We train all offseason, all spring training to build up the pitch count,” he said Saturday. “And when you’re called upon to go longer in the game and throw a lot of pitches, physically you’re able to do it. That’s what we try to do. I don’t feel any effects from it any more than if I threw 50 pitches. I feel the same.
“I knew I had a lot. It’s hard to miss that big scoreboard out there and how many pitches are up there. You train between each start to do that.”
Lester’s first two starts of the season came against the Athletics, March 26 in Japan and April 2 in Oakland. He earned one win and one loss in those outings while giving up a total of four runs over 10 2-3 innings.
The only pitcher in major league history to throw no-hitters in consecutive starts is Johnny Vander Meer, who accomplished the feat for Cincinnati on June 11 and 15, 1938.
Right now, simply winning a game on the road might qualify as an impressive feat for Boston. While the Red Sox (31-21) have won 10 straight games at home, they have lost six in a row away from Fenway Park including the first two games of this series and their 10-game road trip.
“I said, ‘Those guys don’t want none of me today ‘cuz I’m going to pull a Lester on ‘em,” Duchscherer recalled after the win. “In the sixth inning, I was thinking, ‘Did I really say that before the game?”’
As they go for the sweep, the A’s send Joe Blanton (2-6, 3.87) to the hill. The right-hander is 0-2 in his last four starts despite a respectable 3.51 ERA over that stretch. He did not factor in the decision Monday against Tampa Bay, allowing four runs in six innings of a game Oakland eventually lost 7-6 in 13 innings.
Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez is 10-for-18 (.556) lifetime against Blanton. The slumping Ramirez sat out Saturday after hitting .189 (17-for-90) over his last 24 games, but is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday.