Max Scherzer narrowly bests Jon Lester in battle of prospective free agents

May 16, 2014 - 8:57 pm
Max Scherzer and Jon Lester have a lot in common. Both were born in 1984, with Lester being six months senior to his Tigers counterpart. Both of their 2013 seasons secured them a spot in the upper echelon of current starting pitchers. And of course, barring any extensions signed during the course of the season, they'€™ll both be entering the unknown waters of free agency this winter, and both are in line for monster paydays. But on Friday night, the subtlest of difference in the line score meant a victory for Scherzer and a 1-0 loss for Lester and the Red sox. Despite giving up just the one run to a potent Tigers offense, it wasn'€™t Lester'€™s sharpest performance. The lefty struggled out of the gate, allowing a single to Ian Kinsler and issuing a walk to Miguel Cabrera before Torii Hunter drove in the game'€™s only run with a two-out single. Hunter has been a thorn in the side of Lester throughout his entire career, and is now 13-for-25 against the Red Sox ace after two singles in the series opener. "€œI felt like I threw the ball pretty well with the exception of the first [inning] -- I got myself into a little bit of a jam there but minimized the damage," Lester said. "I really didn'€™t think one was going to stand up tonight, but it did." Lester would last just five innings thanks to a 47-minute rain delay that interrupted the top of the fourth inning. The lefty would allow four hits and three walks on the night. At the beginning of play on Friday, Lester and Scherzer were tied for second in the American League with 66 strikeouts apiece, and the two matched each others'€™ totals on Friday with seven strikeouts apiece. The delay didn'€™t seem to affect Lester, who allowed just one walk in 1 2/3 innings after play resumed. "I actually felt better coming out of the rain delay than I did coming into the game,"€ Lester said. "I felt like I threw the ball a lot better the last two innings than I did the previous three." It was another tough luck loss for Lester, who has received the 12th lowest run support in the league coming into the game, with the offense averaging just 2.89 runs behind him per start. "€œI can'€™t worry about that,"€ Lester said. "€œIt'€™s kind of the luck of the draw sometimes, like tonight, you can give up one run, you lose. That'€™s the nature of playing this game. Sometimes you give up six and get a no-decision or you hold on long enough to get a W. You just have to go out there and keep pounding the strike zone, that'€™s all you can really do. I can'€™t control what the other guy across the way is doing. I gotta focus on what I'€™m trying to do from pitch to pitch and not letting anything else affect me." Though Scherzer came out on top and earned the victory, his line was very similar to Lester'€™s. The reigning Cy Young winner held the Red Sox to three hits but walked four in his six innings of work. He cruised through his first three innings of work, retiring the Red Sox in order and striking out the side in the third. Things began to unravel in the sixth when David Ross led the inning off with a single and Dustin Pedroia walked. A hard-hit double play ball off the bat of Grady Sizemore and a strikeout of Mike Napoli killed the rally, and Scherzer escaped unscathed. "œWe had some tough at-bats off of him," Ross said of Scherzer. "€œI thought we got his pitch count up pretty good and we had some chances -- we just couldn'€™t squeeze that last one across." Despite coming out on the losing end of the decision, Lester acknowledges the excitement of being engaged in a pitchers'€™ duel. "I enjoy them a hell of a lot more when we win. I mean obviously, we'€™ve had a couple of these this year, and I was fortunate to be on the other side of the one in Chicago [against Chris Sale], but it'€™s fun," Lester said. "If you'€™re a pitcher you have to enjoy going out there and playing the cat and mouse game with the hitters and watching their guy work, too. I think that'€™s something more for tomorrow to really sit down and appreciate what he did and what he'€™s done. When you'€™re going through it, it'€™s a struggle, it'€™s a battle, and you'€™re trying to outdo him. He was able to not give up any tonight and get the W."€ But for Lester, Friday night was more about the a tight game between good ball clubs than a battle between two players who are potentially jockeying for pole position as the most desirable free agents on the market this coming offseason. "€œI think more so because it'€™s the Tigers versus the Red Sox, I don'€™t think it'€™s contract stuff or free agent stuff or anything like that," Lester said. "€œI think it'€™s more that we played these guys in the [American League Championship Series] last year, and no one talked about us, and we beat them. They'€™re trying to right the ship over there and trying to do to us what they were supposed to last year. I look it at that way, not as two possible free agents going after each other. We'€™re trying to compete for the Red Sox and trying to compete for the Tigers, and that'€™s the last thing on my mind right now."