Is there anything more magnificent than watching Jon Lester set his jaw and square his shoulders to the enemy? Glaring in for the sign and promising with every frown towards each new batter that he will be the stopper tonight, come hell or high water?
Kristen observed the ever-increasing badassery of Lester this season:
Is it just me, or has Lester been getting more and more badass of late? Not just with the pitching - though that surely hasn't suffered - but his demeanor seems different. He'll begin the inning with a base hit or two and it's almost as if he doesn't even notice it, as he stands there, absolutely unflinching and strikes the next guy (or two) out. Maybe it's Varitek, maybe it's the knowledge that after a World Series and a no-hitter and, you know, cancer, a few base runners doesn't seem like that big a deal. Or maybe it's what Varitek keeps telling us, Lester has transformed from a boy into a man.
I know since I'm morbidly fascinated with all things Beckett that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record here, but the more I watch Lester pitch, especially in big-game situations like last night's, the more that demeanor Kristen was referring to reminds me of Josh. That squared-shoulders posture is very similar, the haughty, aggressive squint, even the necklaces. The way he's learned to get his legs underneath him (nobody has more leg power or better leg technique than Beckett), the way he mixes his pitches, the way he locates...From the poise to the gas, I feel like what I'm looking at with today's Jon Lester is the gangly rookie who came up a few years ago crossed with Beckett's body and personality. Like there's been some sort of strange genetic experiment of the kind SG would dream up.
Or maybe it's just that ace pitchers, power pitchers, have many similarities. If another pitcher anchored our rotation, maybe I'd be comparing Lester to him.
Either way, the establishment of Lester as an ace-quality pitcher seems to have fully taken hold of the Boston press, and much of the fan base.
Personally, I think the term 'ace' is overused - it's not supposed to just refer to the team's #1 pitcher in the rotation by default or any pitcher who throws over 90 and has a couple of good seasons. It takes things like 21 strikeouts, the 1999 All Star Game, 2004's ALCS Game 6 and 2007's Game 5 to create a true ace. I think Lester has had a lot of great experiences in his career so far, but needs more before he can legitimately be included in that pantheon.
But last night, at least, was certainly an ace-level performance. The kind where, even if you lost the other two games of the series against your dreaded rival, you feel invincible, watching your team's stalwart avatar take charge on the mound.