The Red Sox brass had to celebrate what they'd built, resigning Josh Beckett, acquiring John Lackey, and developing Clay Buchholz, with four out pitches (95 mph heat, 12-6 curve, devastating change, and recently branded cutter).
But the gem of the staff is the 26 year-old lefter from Tacoma. Battling professional hitters must seem easy after enduring cancer chemotherapy. This season Lester leads Sox hurlers with eleven wins, and leads the AL in starts, wins above replacement, and hits allowed per nine innings.
Over the past two and a half seasons, he is 42-17, with 501 strikeouts in 513.2 innings. And he's getting better before our eyes, controlling both sides of the plate, using the cutter against right-handers, and developing another out pitch with his change-up. His adjusted ERA+ (adjusted for ballpark) has been in the top five in the AL for each of the past three seasons. He keeps the ball in the park, fourth in the league in fewest homers allowed.
He has the stuff of a strikeout pitcher and the confidence to pitch to contact. He can keep the running game in check. He has conquered the early career struggles emanating from erratic command. He has won the clinching game of the World Series, thrown a no-hitter, and might start the All-Star game on Tuesday.
He is one of the elite pitchers in baseball and we've had the privilege of watching that evolution.