There's room for a gentleman's disagreement among the scouts and talent evaluators. Maybe Jon Lester is a Cy Young Award winner-in-training or just a garden-variety, middle-of-the-rotation guy. But 37 starts into his big league career, one thing can't be denied: The kid sure has a flair for the dramatic.
You figured nothing could top Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, when Lester beat Colorado in Boston's championship clincher a mere 10 months after completing cancer treatments at his home in Tacoma, Wash. Lester's performance made pitching coach John Farrell's eyes well with tears and prompted teammate Curt Schilling to coin a new word to define grit, competitiveness and chutzpah.
Lester's 4-3 win over the Rockies was, in Schilling's estimation, the "clutch-iest" performance he had ever seen.
But as Lester discovered Monday, nothing quite compares to a brisk spring evening in New England, watching the tension build and the love rain down from the Fenway stands as Royal after Kansas City Royal takes a seat. Just when it appeared that Lester was settling into a nice, inconspicuous apprenticeship behind Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, he decided to go all Clay Buchholz on us.
The numbers added up to jubilation, as Lester tossed the first no-hitter by a Red Sox left-hander since Mel Parnell in 1956. He threw 20 of 29 first-pitch strikes, carved up both sides of the plate and rode his adrenaline to 96 mph in the ninth inning before whiffing Alberto Callaspo on his 130th pitch in a 7-0 Boston victory.
After manager Terry Francona came onto the field and nearly hugged the breath right out of him, Lester shared the essence of their conversation in an on-field TV interview.
"He said he was proud of me," Lester said. "We've been through a lot the last couple of years, and he's been like a second dad to me. It's just a special moment right there."
Some no-hitters seem to hang by a thread, but this one developed a sense of momentum and an air of inevitability as the evening progressed. The Royals continue to make strides under general manager Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman, but it has more to do with Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria and the pitching than the offense -- which ranks 28th in the majors in runs scored. The Royals, you might recall, were the team that helped get Cleveland pitcher C.C. Sabathia's $100 million dream back on track after his dreadful start in April.
Nevertheless, Lester had to skirt a few minefields on his way to making history. Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek entered Monday leading the American League in hitting. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are hovering around .280 and Jose Guillen has begun earning his $12 million salary this month. Plus, the Royals are batting .285 against lefties.
And Lester? He's looked like a 24-year-old former wunderkind in the middle of a learning curve. He's physically stronger now that he's further removed from cancer treatments, and he has added a changeup to complement his fastball, curveball and cutter. But he entered the game with a 2-2 record, a 3.95 ERA and 33 strikeouts and 29 walks.