Jon Lester got used to the World Series hoopla when he clinched a championship for Boston six years ago.
No wonder he looked so calm and comfortable Wednesday night.
The left-hander allowed five hits in 7-2/3 shutout innings and even started a big double play that helped the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-1 in Game 1.
Lester already had dealt with World Series distractions when, on another chilly October night in 2007, he won the final game with 5-2/3 shutout innings as Boston completed a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies with a 4-3 victory.
”Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of festivities, the introductions, the flyovers, the national anthems,” Lester said. ”Everything’s quadrupled in the World Series. So you know how to handle those situations, your warmup time, so forth.
”And being in that situation in 2007 definitely prepared me for tonight.”
Back-to-back World Series starts for Lester — one completing a championship drive, another, perhaps, starting one.
Lester threw a cutter in the eighth inning for his final out of the game.
The fans at Fenway Park roared as he walked slowly toward the dugout, tipping his cap. He was embraced by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who got the night off as catcher so Lester could throw to the one he’s been so successful with recently, David Ross.
”Salty did a great job for us this year. For whatever reason, me and Ross right now are clicking,” Lester said.
He struck out eight, walked one and left after retiring Matt Carpenter on a routine fly to left field on his 112th pitch.
”That’s kind of what we expected” from Lester, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Lester had struggled going into the All-Star game. He was 2-6 in his last 11 starts before the break. But he took nine days off between starts, fixed what he was doing wrong and has been outstanding ever since. He was 7-2 in his last 11 regular-season starts and continued his success in October. He is 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA in four games this postseason.
”He was just incredible,” Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes said. ”He’s climbing the ranks as one of the best left-handers in the game.”
Before the game, Boston Game 2 starter John Lackey said Thursday would be ”a business day” for him. He expected to have his fun Wednesday watching Lester.
”I’m going to enjoy it more tonight, probably, watching my buddy pitch,” Lackey said. ”Rooting hard for Lester. That will be kind of fun to be a fan tonight, to watch him and root him on.”
Staked to a 5-0 lead after two innings, Lester allowed one hit and struck out four in the first three.
”I think you can go one or two ways (with a big lead),” he said. ”You can kind of let your guard down, take a deep breath and go, `OK, we got the lead,’ and not really pay attention to the next inning.”
Or, he said, you can focus on ”winning each inning.”
Lester ran into trouble in the fourth after he walked leadoff batter Jon Jay and struck out Matt Holliday. St. Louis loaded the bases on singles by Allen Craig and Yadier Molina. Then, Lester took matters into his own hands, getting David Freese to ground the ball back to him.
Lester threw home for one out and Ross fired the ball to first baseman Mike Napoli, completing the inning-ending double play.
”The key, to me, was the double play in the fourth,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
Lester allowed two singles in the fifth, then retired Jay on a grounder to end the inning. That began a stretch in which Lester retired his last nine batters before being replaced by Junichi Tazawa.
”Early on (I) had a good rhythm, kind of lost it a little bit in those middle innings,” Lester said. In the ”sixth inning (I) got right back out there and tried to do the same thing we were doing all game.”
He did, and now he’s in some pretty good pitching company.
Lester pitched only 12 regular-season games in 2007 following treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Now he’s the first starter to win two consecutive World Series games for the same team since Bob Gibson did it for the Cardinals in Game 7 in 1967 and Game 1 in 1968. And he became the third pitcher with scoreless outings in his first two World Series starts, joining Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants in 1905 and Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants in 2010 and 2012.
All those teams, except the 1968 Cardinals, went on to become champions.
Now, Lester has given the Red Sox a head start.
”He’s been doing it all year,” Napoli said. ”He’s a big-time pitcher.”