On Saturday Jon Lester added to his resume as one of the Boston Red Sox all time best left-handed pitchers, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to punch out 15 hitters since Pedro struck out 17 Tampa Bay Devil Rays on April 8, 2001 at Fenway Park. He also became the first left hander to accomplish the feat in a 9 inning game.
Saturday he accomplished something even more rare than a no-hitter. His 15 strikeout performance marked the 21st time in Red Sox history that a pitcher reached that plateau and the 30 year old southpaw is only the seventh Red Sox pitcher to do it. There have been 20 times when a Sox pitcher has hurled a no-hitter and that has been accomplished by 18 different pitchers.
Of the 21 times it has been accomplished, Pedro owns half of them doing it 10 times in three seasons with a high of 17; once in the aforementioned game against Tampa and once in Yankee Stadium in 1999.
Clemens was the first pitcher in history to strike out 20 batters in a nine inning game and he’s the only player to do it twice.
Roger Clemens did it six times with the Red Sox, with his major league record 20 punch outs coming 10 years apart. The first time in 1986 at Fenway against the Mariners and at Detroit in 1996.
Four other Red Sox pitchers have set down 15 or more opponents on strikes.
One of those 21 losses came in a game in which he struck out 15 Philadelphia Athletics in a 4-1 loss on the first of September. The 1906 Boston Americans were 49-105 finishing in last place 45 1/2 games out of first. One of the worst years in their history.
On July 7, 1911, Smoky Joe Wood became the Red Sox second pitcher to set down 15 men on strikes and the first to do it in a winning effort, defeating the St. Louis Browns, 6-1. He would go 34-5 the following year leading the Red Sox to a pennant and World Series win in their first year at Fenway Park.
Forty summers would pass before another Red Sox pitcher would strike out 15 men in a game and this one may be the most interesting. It was July 28, 1951 and the Cleveland Indians were in town. The Tribe sent future Hall of Famer and Nokomis Florida resident Early Wynn to the mound to face McDermott. The Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first on the strength of a bases loaded double by Bobby Doerr. The Indians scored a run in the seventh before knotting things up in the eighth and that’s when the fun started.
It remained 2-2 until the 15th inning when Cleveland took a 3-2 lead in the top half of the frame. The same frame, by the way, that the lanky lefty recorded his 15th K of the game. However in the bottom of the inning, Red Sox right-fielder Clyde Vollmer singled in Billy Goodman to again knot the game up and get his mates to the 16th. Indian shortstop Ray Boone (father of Bob, grandfather of Aaron and Bret) doubled off the Monster to lead off the inning. This brought up Hall of Famer Larry Doby who singled him in giving the Indians the lead, again, 4-3. McDermott then plunked Luke Easter putting men on first and second with nobody out before getting the next three guys and keeping the Sox within a run.
Hall of Famer Bob Feller came on to pitch the 16th and after Dom DiMaggio popped out to third and Johnny Pesky walked, Ted Williams blasted a double high off the left centerfield wall scoring Pesky and again tying the score. Vern Stephens walked and Bobby Doerr flied out to left bringing up Billy Goodman who also walked. Clyde Vollmer stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. And just as he had done in the 15th he delivered. Only this time he lofted a Bob Feller pitch high into the screen in left field for a walk off grand slam homer, making 8-4 winners of the Red Sox and Mickey McDermott. McDermott threw a 16 inning complete game win which included 15 strike outs! Oh and his pitch count is unavailable.
It was May 12, 1961, in Griffith Stadium, when Bill Monbouquette sent 17 Washington Senators back to the dugout carrying their bats. It is a game which holds particular significance to me because it is the first game I remember listening to, in its entirety on the radio. It was the voices of Ned Martin and Curt Gowdy which told me this tale as “Monbo” mowed them down, breaking the record when he struck out Dale Long to start the ninth and then punching out Coot Veal for number 17. Jackie Jensen made a great catch in right field for the third out, saving the tying run from scoring and preserving Monbo’s masterpiece, a 2-1 win.
Now let’s get back to Lester.
Watching him mow down the A’s Saturday was a treat. There is something very special about a dominant pitching performance which I never grow tired of watching. His third win of the season was his 103 of his career leaving him two behind Lefty Grove to crack the Red Sox all time top ten. His winning percentage of .632 puts him tied with Cy Young for sixth on the list and his 1295 strike outs puts him fifth on the list with Cy Young in his sites before season’s end.
He is 6-4 in the post season with a 2.11 ERA and in World Series play he is 3-0 with an ERA of 0.43. No Red Sox lefty has performed like this in the Fall Classic since some guy named Babe Ruth did it a century ago.
It remains to be seen if Jon Lester is playing his last year in a Red Sox uniform but one thing is certain, he has joined Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Mel Parnell and Bruce Hurst as the best southpaws in Red Sox history.