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Jon Lester: 2013 Red Sox ‘complete opposite of anything I’ve been around’

10.03.13 at 3:44 pm ET
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Jon Lester will make his third career ALDS Game 1 start for the Red Sox on Friday. (AP)

Jon Lester will make his third career ALDS Game 1 start for the Red Sox on Friday. (AP)

Jon Lester made his big league debut in 2006 and was a contributor at times — including, most notably, Game 4 of the 2007 World Series — to the Red Sox’ last championship run. By then, the Red Sox seemingly had completed the transition from the Idiots of 2004 to a more conservative yet no less effective approach.

“I got the impression of more … the button down, like this is our job, this is what we’re doing day‑in and day‑out, you just keep going, this is our goal,” Lester recalled of that team and the ones that followed it. “There was some fun along the way.  But I feel like the teams in the past were kind of like that same approach.  Hey, we’ve got another game.  Let’s win another game.  Let’s move on.  Let’s go on to the next one.”

That has not been the nature of the 2013 Red Sox. This has been a team of rituals, that seems to enjoy what it is doing both on and off the field. For the 29-year-old pitcher, the atmosphere has offered both novelty and renewal.

“This team it’s a complete opposite of anything I’ve been around. From the moment you walk in, guys were laughing, cutting up. Nobody is safe in the clubhouse as far as getting yelled at. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 years in or if you’ve got one day. Everybody is having fun. And then when the time comes for 7:00 to roll around, you know, guys go out there and they do what they need to do and they’re prepared and they play hard. And the guys that are on the bench are keeping those guys loose and having fun doing it,” said Lester. “It’s been a joy to be around. I never thought just being around this market for a couple of years, I never thought you could actually do that here. And it’s a pleasant surprise. And hopefully we can continue to carry it over for the remaining time that I’m here, the other guys are here and really just have fun playing the game.”

Yet while the tone of the team has changed significantly this year, a familiar responsibility awaits Lester. Thanks to his return to form in a year where he went 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA — including a 7-2 record and 2.57 ERA in the second half — the left-hander is preparing to make his third career Game 1 postseason start, preparing to take the ball on Friday against the Rays. The left-hander was previously called upon to pitch in Game 1 twice for the Red Sox, opening the 2008 and 2009 ALDS series against the Angels.

It is a responsibility that Lester takes seriously, but one that he also assumes now with a renewed sense of perspective after three years in which the Sox missed the playoffs.

“To be named Game 1 starter, especially after last year, to be named Opening Day starter, you know, big honor, obviously, very excited, especially for this organization with the history that goes along with it, the guys that have gotten that honor in the past,” said Lester. “It’s a big honor for me to have my name up there with those guys. And like I would say, I can go out and bust my butt and give the team the best chance to win tomorrow and set the tone for the other starters.

“This will be my first at home, Game 1, so that will be exciting, be obviously electric tomorrow,” he added. “There’s nothing like playoff atmosphere. You can’t duplicate it. You can’t describe it. It’s just a different beast when you step out on that mound. You know the other team is more focused; they’re ready to go. You know you have to step up your game a little bit and be more focused than the other guy. There’s really nothing like it.”

The Sox believe that Lester is equipped to handle the assignment. Based on his performance down the stretch, the team views him as once again performing at the elite standard he set during Farrell’s tenure as pitching coach.

“The body of work compares pretty consistently to … ’08, ’09 or ’10 — one of the top starting pitchers in the league,” said manager John Farrell. “He’s done a great job of righting his own ship, so to speak, after a late May, early June stretch of starts where things didn’t work out as well. He finished this year extremely strong, powerful, with good performance and we’re looking at him to lead the way here in October.”

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