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Lester caps inspirational comeback with solid win vs. Indians

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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CLEVELAND -- As the emotions washed over him, Jon Lester stood on the mound and squeezed the baseball tightly in his left hand.

This was the moment, his moment.

Staring at Boston catcher Jason Varitek's target, Lester disregarded the fluttering in his stomach, rocked into his windup and fired his first pitch -- a called strike, the one he had dreamed of making for 11 months.

On Monday night, Lester crowned a courageous comeback from cancer with a victory.

The young pitcher, whose rookie season ended suddenly when he was diagnosed with a treatable form of lymphoma, pitched six innings to lead the Red Sox to a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.

"I figured the day would come," Lester said. "I just didn't know when. It's just nice to be back."

Working to major leaguers while his parents sat on the edges of their seats near Boston's dugout, Lester allowed two runs and five hits to easily handle the Indians, the team with the AL's best home record.

Lester's journey back couldn't have had a better checkpoint.

"It was supposed to be his night," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He just really competes."

The 23-year-old left-hander had been in the midst of a stellar first season when a visit to the doctor for back pain resulted in a startling find that threatened his life and stunned Red Sox Nation.

Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma just days after he improved to 7-2 with a win over the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 23.

Over the next months, Lester would undergo six chemotherapy sessions that eventually eradicated the disease. Still, there would be other hurdles to overcome as the Red Sox cautiously handled his return.

But in the opener of a four-game series, Lester showed the same form that made him instantly popular at Fenway Park, where he is certain to have another emotional game when he finally pitches there again.

Lester was relieved to be back in the big leagues, knowing how quickly it can all be taken away. He was declared cancer-free by doctors in December but must still have periodic checkups to make sure the disease hasn't returned.

"I'm just trying to put it behind me and move on and just go back to pitching and not worry about things," he said. "But right now every three months I have to go back and get that reality check. Hopefully we can put it behind us and just win some games."

Coco Crisp went 4-for-5 and scored three runs for Boston, which jumped to a 5-0 lead in the second off Jake Westbrook (1-6).

Manny Ramirez had two RBI as the Red Sox became the majors' first team to reach 60 wins.

Grady Sizemore hit a two-run homer for the Indians, who opened an 11-game homestand.

The sight of Lester walking to the mound drew a standing ovation from pockets of Boston fans scattered throughout Jacobs Field, a ballpark he didn't get to pitch in during his abbreviated first season.

Any nervousness for Lester may have been soothed by his teammates giving him a 4-0 lead before he threw a pitch.

"That definitely helps," he said. "That eases any pitcher's mind getting four in the first. It makes it a little easier to go out there and throw strikes."

Lester breezed through the first two innings, getting a double play after hitting Ryan Garko opening the second.

In the third, Sizemore connected for a two-run homer off Lester, who was in trouble again in the fourth.

The Indians loaded the bases with one out but Lester broke Josh Barfield's bat on a comebacker that he bobbled before throwing home to force Garko. With Sizemore back up, Lester's mom, Kathie, couldn't watch as her son battled Cleveland's leadoff hitter.

When Lester finally blew a fastball past Sizemore for strike three to end the threat, his father, John, and Kathie jumped up and pumped their fists in celebration. However, she quickly sat back down and resumed her doubled-up position, seemingly afraid to watch anymore.

Lester said having his parents on hand made his return more special.

"It meant a lot," he said. "They've been through a lot. It was a long offseason, so it was good to have them here to enjoy the moment."

At a time when sports headlines were dominated by an NBA betting scandal, Michael Vick's alleged dogfighting involvement and an ongoing steroid investigation that has tainted Barry Bonds' chase of Henry Aaron's home run record, along came Lester.

"Wow, it's a great story," knuckleballer Tim Wakefield said. "It's been a long road for him."

Lester's comeback has inspired the Red Sox, who were marveling at his composure and maturity long before he began chemotherapy.

Lester, who became the first Red Sox rookie lefty to win his first five decisions, had eased into Boston's rotation when cancer imperiled his young life. But by December, he was throwing again and he showed up at training camp two weeks before pitchers and catchers were due.

Although he appeared ready, the Red Sox decided to bring Lester along slowly, allowing him to pitch in the minors for more than three months before recalling him Monday from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Lester's return figured to be an emotional one for his immediate family and those who love him for the beloved "B" on his cap.

"This isn't even about baseball," Curt Schilling said. "It just doesn't get any better the way a guy like that comes back to us. It's about family. The big thing is he's a great human being and that makes it an even better story. That wasn't your run-of-the-mill DL stint."

Notes

  • Red Sox DH David Ortiz missed his third straight game after injuring his left shoulder on a slide Friday. Ortiz hit off a tee before the game and plans to take batting practice on Tuesday. "Every day it feels better," he said. Ortiz noted that he got hurt trying to stretch a single by challenging the arm of Chicago right fielder Jermaine Dye. "I've run on him two times and both times I was out, and both times I got hurt," he said.
  • Garko extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He's batting .463 over the span.
  • Manny Delcarmen pitched three innings for his first career save.
  • The Red Sox stopped a six-game road losing streak.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Manny Ramirez's two-run double in the first boosts Jon Lester's cause. (AP)
Manny Ramirez's two-run double in the first boosts Jon Lester's cause. (AP)

Players of the Game
Boston

J. Lester
IP 6.0
H 5
ER 2
BB 3
K 6
Boston

C. Crisp
AB 5
R 3
H 4
HR 0
RBI 0
 
Boston Red Sox
Coco Crisp, CF5340001 .284
Dustin Pedroia, 2B5131002 .325
Kevin Youkilis, 1B4121111 .312
Manny Ramirez, DH4122123 .298
J.D. Drew, RF5011015 .252
Mike Lowell, 3B5010014 .305
Jason Varitek, C2000200 .267
Eric Hinske, LF3000101 .211
Julio Lugo, SS4010002 .225
Totals37614555  
Batting
2B - Coco Crisp (15, Westbrook), Manny Ramirez (22, Westbrook)
RBI - Dustin Pedroia (30), Kevin Youkilis (48), Manny Ramirez 2 (60), J.D. Drew (38)
2-OUT RBI - Kevin Youkilis (19)
CS - Mike Lowell (2, 2nd base by Westbrook/Shoppach)
Team LOB - 9
Fielding
DP - Lowell-Pedroia-Youkilis, Lugo-Pedroia-Youkilis
Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester (W,1-0) 6522361 3.00
Mike Timlin (H,4) 1.1100010 3.31
Javier Lopez (H,9) 0.1000010 3.29
Manny Delcarmen (S,1) 1.1000010 1.56
HBP - Garko (by Jon Lester)
Pitches-Strikes - Jon Lester 96-55, Mike Timlin 19-13, Javier Lopez 4-3, Manny Delcarmen 16-12
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jon Lester 5-5, Manny Delcarmen 2-1
Batters Faced - Jon Lester 25, Mike Timlin 5, Javier Lopez 1, Manny Delcarmen 4
Cleveland Indians
Grady Sizemore, CF4112013 .272
Jason Michaels, LF4000020 .277
Casey Blake, 3B3020100 .275
Travis Hafner, DH4000023 .260
Ryan Garko, 1B3010011 .321
Jhonny Peralta, SS3010101 .281
Franklin Gutierrez, RF3000023 .302
   a- Trot Nixon, PH1000000 .245
Kelly Shoppach, C2000110 .309
   b- Ben Francisco, PH1000000 .275
Josh Barfield, 2B3110003 .256
Totals3126239  
a-flied out for Gutierrez in the 9th
b-grounded out for Shoppach in the 9th
Batting
2B - Ryan Garko (17, Lester)
HR - Grady Sizemore (18, Lester)
RBI - Grady Sizemore 2 (54)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
DP - Blake-Barfield-Garko, Barfield-Peralta-Garko, Garko-Peralta
PB - Kelly Shoppach (1)
E - Casey Blake (10, Throwing)
Cleveland Indians
Jake Westbrook (L,1-6) 61055410 6.20
Jensen Lewis 1200010 1.69
Jason Stanford 1210000 4.13
Thomas Mastny 1000130 4.43
Pitches-Strikes - Jake Westbrook 112-65, Jensen Lewis 24-15, Jason Stanford 17-10, Thomas Mastny 18-12
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jake Westbrook 12-1, Jason Stanford 1-2
Batters Faced - Jake Westbrook 28, Jensen Lewis 5, Jason Stanford 5, Thomas Mastny 4
Game Information
Attendance - 32439
Game Time - 3:16
Temperature - 72
Umpires - Home - C.B. Bucknor, First Base - Joe West, Second Base - Ed Rapuano, Third Base - Ed Hickox