BOSTON -- Jon Lester's awkward (and not so excellent) adventure to the ballpark -- the one in which his starting assignment was scratched in anticipation that he could be traded at any moment -- commenced with hushed whispers from a smattering of early-bird fans. (There he is. Poor guy. He's gone. They won't pay him. Ssshh. He might hear you.) His usual stroll into the Fenway clubhouse was met with squeamish stares, the kind you get when you have spinach in your teeth, or spaghetti sauce on your cheek.
Should we tell him? Should we not?
"I heard he's going to the Orioles," said one of the team attendants, shortly after Lester changed out of his street clothes into his Sox uniform, likely for the final time. "I wasn't sure if it was true. I didn't know if I should ask ... "
Doubront, unhappy with his demotion from starter to reliever, sealed his fate Monday night with an underwhelming performance in which he coughed up six runs on six hits. Doubront appeared alternately disinterested and indifferent as the self-inflicted damage he caused continued to mount.
And that is one of the many reasons the Red Sox clubhouse was churning with tension and discontent Wednesday as Lester reported for work on Yawkey Way amid a swirl of uncertainty.
The malcontent Doubront, who said all the wrong things, who flapped his gums and flaunted his misery and asked for a trade, was granted his wish.
The consummate veteran Lester, the one who wants to stay, who even offered a "hometown discount," soldiered on, knowing his days were numbered in spite of doing and saying all the right things.
It remains confounding to Lester's teammates that he is the man who headlines the team's fire sale. He should be untouchable. Equally galling to them is the realization that no matter what Lester did this season, it wasn't going to make any difference. Never mind the 2.52 ERA (on track to be a career best), the 1.12 WHIP, the 9.38 strikeouts per 9 innings.
The only number that seems to be relevant to the front office is 30: his age.
"I just don't understand it," said David Ortiz.
Lester has stoically accepted his fate with the grace of a professional, thanking fans for support via Twitter and refusing to serve up even a smidge of bitterness to reporters who are hungry to document his sentiments.
His growth as a player and a leader has been slow, steady and commendable. The days when one bad pitch would quickly unravel into a catastrophic outing have faded to black. Lester was once a card-carrying chicken-and-beer comrade, but, in the wake of it all, he stood up, accepted responsibility for his role in that distasteful chapter of Red Sox lore and vowed to be a better teammate.
No wonder it is so excruciating for the guys who have won a championship with him to imagine life without him.