With starters becoming an endangered species -- Tim Wakefield's cranky back putting him at least temporarily out of commission along with David Wells (balky knee), Matt Clement (sluggish shoulder), and Lenny DiNardo (strained neck) -- the Red Sox weren't quite to ``Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" territory, but they clearly were headed that way.
But before any aspiring composers of couplets could wear themselves out looking for words to rhyme with Beckett or Schilling, the rookie lefty, Jon Lester, No. 62 on your program but with a bullet next to his name on the charts, came up with some sweet poetry of his own last night.
Lester, displaying an economy of effort absent from his previous seven starts in the big leagues, held the Kansas City Royals to a single hit through eight innings -- a ground-ball single up the middle by Mark Teahen in the second inning. Rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon set the Royals down in order in the ninth to complete the combined one-hitter, a 1-0 Sox win before a sellout crowd of 36,224 sent home in a snappy 2 hours 23 minutes.
``At times it was a little bit of everything, at times it was nothing," Lester said in describing how he went about his business.
One man's nothing is another man's history. By running his record to 5-0, 22-year-old Jonathan Tyler Lester of Puyallup, Wash., became the first Sox rookie lefthander to win his first five decisions. That trumped the debuts of such notable opposite-handers in Sox annals as George Herman Ruth, Melvin Lloyd Parnell, William Francis Lee III, Bruce Vee Hurst, and one Thomas Frederick (Rick) Jones, who in 1976 was the last Sox rookie lefty to win his first four decisions -- then won two more games the rest of his career.
Lester also became the first lefty rookie to start a one-hitter since Billy Rohr, who came within an out of no-hitting the Yankees in the Bronx April 14, 1967 before Elston Howard singled, a moment that can be recited from memory by an entire generation of Sox fans who have ``The Impossible Dream" in their LP collection (``Billy Rohr . . . on the threshold . . . ").
Rohr's glory days, like those of Jones, were few. He won just three games in his major league career and was out of baseball two years after his debut, history's way of warning fans not to get carried away by the early returns. But Lester, a second-round draft pick in 2002, was identified almost immediately as a jewel of the organization -- unlike Papelbon, who appeared nova-like on the scene -- and he has not disappointed.
``I think our whole organization, the fans, everybody was excited to see [Lester] come up to our big club and see what he can do," manager Terry Francona said. ``He jumped right in and has been a huge member of our staff.
``That's why we try to hold off on some of these young guys. He's one of them. We thought once they were ready, they could impact our club and tonight was a perfect example of that. He is ready to pitch."
The only run of the game in the team's first 1-0 win this season and first at Fenway Park since Pedro Martínez (remember him) went eight innings against the Padres on June 8, 2004, came in the fifth inning on a double by Jason Varitek and single by Alex Gonzalez, the Sox shortstop delivering a base hit after fouling off three two-strike pitches.
Varitek, who broke Carlton Fisk's record for most games caught for the Sox (991), doubled off the Monster in left-center off loser Brandon Duckworth and scored on Gonzalez's bouncer up the middle.
When Varitek came out to catch the sixth, the scoreboard flashed the news of his passing Fisk, which brought the crowd to its feet and caused Varitek to wave his hand this way and that to acknowledge the ovation before quickly dropping into his crouch.
``You're very humbled, almost uncomfortable to a point," Varitek said. ``But it's very appreciated. I was very honored to have the response that I had from my fans."
The last combined one-hitter by Sox pitchers came last June 14 here when Wells (seven innings, Ryan Freel single in the sixth), Mike Timlin, and Keith Foulke combined to shut out the Reds, 7-0.
Hideo Nomo was the last Sox pitcher to throw a one-hitter -- May 25, 2001 against Toronto -- but Francona said he entertained no thoughts of sending Lester out for the ninth inning.
``I wanted to pitch," said Lester, who was as calm and clinical in dissecting his performance as he was in setting down the Royals, who have now lost 10 of their last 11 games in Fenway, even though they've held the lead in eight of those losses. ``But I had to listen to Tito."
Lester, who had thrown no fewer than 82 pitches in the first five innings of his first seven starts, threw 100 pitches last night in improving his record to 5-0. He became the first Sox rookie starter to win his first five decisions since Aaron Sele won his first six in 1993.
``He's been putting up a lot of zeroes and has been coming out early," Francona said. ``He stayed out there tonight for eight innings and was tremendous. He can run his fastball in and up on righties, and because they have to respect that, that opens up the plate away."
Lester walked four and struck out four while facing just 27 batters, just three over the minimum. Only four of Kansas City's outs came on fly balls on a night the wind was gusting and blowing balls toward the infield. Teahen, who stole second after his base hit, was the only Royal to reach second base.
``He wasn't doing anything I hadn't seen before," Teahen said. ``He was cutting the ball away and running it in a little bit and hitting his outside pitches. It seemed like when he missed, he missed in a good spot rather than a spot where he'd get hurt."
Lester picked off Mark Grudzielanek after issuing a leadoff walk in the fourth, and second baseman Mark Loretta and shortstop Gonzalez collaborated on a snappy double play to erase Tony Graffanino after his one out walk in the seventh.
Papelbon recorded his big-league leading 28th save by striking out David DeJesus, retiring pinch hitter Matt Stairs on an infield roller, and inducing Grudzielanek to ground to Mike Lowell at third to end the game.
Lester is not oblivious to the tattered state of the Sox rotation, but said that was not something he took to the mound with him.
``I'm not going to put any more pressure on myself than I already have," Lester said.
``It's unfortunate those guys are injured right now, and hopefully they'll come back as soon as possible, but right now I'm just trying to take care of every five days the best I can."