Monday, May 19, 2008

A Special Night at the Ballpark

Tonight, a young Red Sox pitcher threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals.

And that sentence really says so little.

In June of 2006, after a rash of injuries to the Red Sox starting pitching staff, rookie pitcher Jon Lester made his major league debut. The 22 year-old was a sensation. A couple of months later, Lester had to miss a start because of soreness in his back. It was originally thought that his ailment was related to a car crash he had been involved in a week earlier. But as further tests were done, Lester was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.


Jon Lester moved back home & underwent chemotherapy treatments. And by December 5th, 2006, he was pronounced cancer-free.

He resumed baseball-related activities by Spring Training of '07, but the Red Sox organization wanted him to take it slow. So Lester pitched in the minors for several months, regaining his strength & velocity. And by July 23rd, he returned to start a major league game against the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field.

I remember watching that game on ESPN. We had just moved my Mom down to Florida, and the game was on, and I told Mom how that young kid had licked cancer & was now back to full strength. The ESPN cameras found his parents in the seats, and it was evident that it was a big night for them. With tears in their eyes, they passionately rooted on their son as he got the win that night. I'll never forget the image of his mother pumping her fist with tear-filled eyes as he finished off his final inning of that game.

Jon Lester made it through the rest of that '07 season in rocky fashion. He didn't pitch poorly, but he wasn't yet making the kind of progress folks expect a 2nd year player to make. He really just wasn't back to full strength.

But October came around. The Red Sox won a draining 7-game ALCS to advance to the World Series, and almost immediately had to face the Colorado Rockies. After the Red Sox won the first three games, their top four starting pitchers were all a little too taxed to pitch Game Four. So Manager Terry Francona gave the ball to Jon Lester. And all he did was go out and win the clinching game of the World Series, less than a year removed from battling cancer.

Still, he had help in those games. He only pitched 6 innings (18 total outs) against the Indians in his return, and 5 and 2/3 innings (17 outs) in the World Series clincher.

But tonight was different. Jon Lester pitched all 9 innings & recorded 27 outs. He face 30 different batters, and not one of them could get a hit against him. Jon Lester was center-stage, and tonight he was the strongest man on Earth. He threw 130 pitches -- about 30 more pitches than the average starter throws on any given night. And even to the very end, Lester was throwing heat. His fastball was clocking in at about 95 MPH.

For Red Sox fans, it was a fun night. But for people who have been touched by cancer, and especially Jon Lester and his family, tonight was a special night at the ballpark.

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