The Red Sox dropped two of three in Yankee Stadium (the fake one) this weekend, putting the exclamation point on the death of their 2012 season. However, the weekend was, I think, a lesson about the future. Specifically about the future of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Beckett took it on the chin last night 4-1, surrendering a couple of home runs to Ichiro, Ichiro! He is now 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA. He has not pitched seven innings since July 25th and he has not won a game since July 15th!
Jon Lester, on the other hand, beat the Bombers 4-1 on Saturday bringing his record to 7-10 with an ERA of 5.03. It was his second win in a row, his second consecutive outing of surrendering only one run and in his last 13 innings of work he has given up two runs, eight hits and has struck out 16.
What does this season, this weekend tell us about these two men?
Let’s start with Beckett.
Josh Beckett turned 31 this season. Coming into 2012, he was 84-37 as a Red Sox pitcher in his six years as the “ace” of the Red Sox rotation.
Beckett was 4-0 and surrender four runs in 30 innings in the 2007 post season.
His best year came in 2007 when he was 20-7 and virtually unhittable in the post season leading the Sox to their second “Holy Grail” in four years. In his last three post season starts he is 1-1 and he has surrendered 18 earned runs and 27 hits in 21 innings of work spread over two years and three games! He has reached the 200 inning mark but three times with a high of 212 in 2009. He is under contract to the Red Sox for two more years at $15, 750,000 per year. He appears to be beset with back and shoulder miseries.
Now let’s take a look at Lester.
Jon Lester entered into the Sox rotation as a regular starter in 2008, and when 2012 opened he was 65-32 in that role. Of course he had already made a tremendous impact going 4-0 in 2007 and winning the deciding game of the 2007 World Series in Colorado.
Lester also authored a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in May of 2008.
His best year came in 2012 when he was 19-9, made the all-star team and led the league with 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He is 2-3 in the post season with an ERA of 2.57 and in his last three post season starts covering two years he is 0-3 surrendering 18 hits and 10 runs in 18 2/3 innings of work. He has reached the 200 inning mark in three of his four years with a high of 210 1/3 in 2008. He is under contract to the Red Sox next season for $11,625,000 and the Red Sox own a $13,000,000 option for 2014. He is a cancer survivor!
So what is going on with these guys? Well it’s entirely possible that they have both simply hit their “down year” at the same time. Virtually every pitcher has at least one throughout their careers. It’s happened to the best of the best. Hell, Walter Johnson was 8-10 in 1920 and he rebounded and went 23-7 in ’24’ and 20-7 in ’25’.
Walter Johnson 417 career wins.
Warren Spahn was 14-19 with the 1952 Braves and he went on to nine 20 win seasons after that, including six in a row.
Warren Spahn 363 career wins more than any left-hander in history.
Tom Seaver followed a 14-14 season in 1974 with a Cy Young Award in 1975.
Tom Seaver received the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history.
What does all this suggest? Nothing really except one single thing. This game is hard to play and pitching is the hardest part of it. It is a punishing game which can and has broken the best of men. It will challenge the participants in ways that life challenges us all and like life, it requires an unfathomable level of mental toughness to simply endure!
I believe that there occurred this weekend in each game a microcosm of where Lester and Beckett are at, at this point in their careers. For Lester it occurred in the seventh inning of the game Saturday. The Sox were ahead 3-1 and Curtis Granderson led off with a double and advanced to third on a fly ball out. Granderson DID NOT SCORE! Lester bowed the back and prevailed looking like the Jon Lester Red Sox fans have come to know and love.
For Beckett it occurred last night when Derek Jeter stepped in for his second at bat. Jeter had doubled leading off the game and scored. Beckett had two strikes on him and threw a fastball. It was a good fast ball and was tailing in on Jeter. Jeter got his hands through the ball and hit it to the gap for another double. Francona commented in the booth what a good pitch it was and indeed it was a good pitch. Orel Hershiser then made a telling remark. He said it was 91 MPH not the 95 or 96 that Beckett had thrown in the past. In the past Jeter swings and misses.
Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are at a crossroads in their careers. I do not believe both of them will be with the Red Sox next year. It is not as easy to simply trade away a player these days with the complexity of contacts and of course the money, the oodles and oddles of money involved. But for my money I’s say Lester will stay.
Hell he’s a cancer survivor! And a lefty!
And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, August 20, 2012.