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Greatest hits of the '80s

Posted by Maureen Mullen October 9, 2008 05:58 AM

It had been more than a generation since the Red Sox farm system produced an impact left-handed pitcher. Twenty-six years separated Bruce Hurst, drafted in 1976, and Jon Lester, drafted in 2002.

This year, Lester (16-6, 3.21 ERA in the regular season) recorded the most wins by a Sox lefty since Hurst went 18-6 (3.66) in 1988, his last and, statistically speaking, best season with the Sox. In games Lester started this season, the team was 22-11, the same record the Red Sox had in games Hurst started in 1988.

“I think there are some similarities,” said Dick Berardino, a Sox player development consultant who was Hurst’s first manager, with Elmira in the New York-Penn League in 1976. “Their physiques were very similar, their deliveries, finishes. Bruce was more overhand, had a 12-to-6 curveball, a little different curveball. They both have great curveballs.

“Both have an inner toughness with a very calm outside demeanor.”

They’re hardly twins, though.

“He throws a lot harder than I threw,” Hurst said. “And he has a real explosive cutter. I never had a pitch like that. My curveball was a little big. His [curveball] is a very, very good curveball. I might have had a little better changeup than him, but our styles were a little different. He’s a lot more of power arm than I was.”

In their signature seasons, Lester and Hurst put the lie to the notion that Fenway Park is inhospitable to lefties. In 1988, Hurst went 13-2 (3.33) in 19 starts at home.

Twenty years later, Lester, 24, was 11-1 (2.49) in 17 starts at Fenway.

“I loved pitching at Fenway,” Hurst said. “For me, the way I look at Fenway Park, I think it’s more of a left-handed hitter’s ballpark than it is a right-handed hitter’s ballpark. And I think one of the things right-handed hitters do when they come to Fenway Park is they see the Wall and they figure they have three or four games to hit a ball over the Wall and they get in more of a pull mode.”

Said Berardino, “They both pitched inside in Fenway, which was a great asset. A lot of lefties are afraid to pitch inside because of the Monster. But they pitched inside, which was great. And Bruce had a great advantage because he pitched a lot of Saturday and Sunday afternoon games at Fenway Park with that overhand delivery, and they didn’t close off the center-field stands. It’s a great advantage because the delivery would come out of the stands.”

Hurst, 50, rejoined the Sox during spring training as a special instructor for player development but hasn’t worked with Lester.

“Obviously, I was thrilled with his no-hitter [against the Royals at Fenway in May], and the year that he’s had and how well he pitched in Anaheim the other day,” Hurst said before Lester’s Game 4 start in the ALDS against the Angels. “I really love a lot of things about him. Personally, I think I see in him some intangibles that can go a long, long way.”

Down on the farms

While the big-league team faces the Rays, the minor leagues remain busy. The Florida Instructional League finishes up this week, and the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League and Arizona Fall League are under way.

In Hawaii, outfielder Ryan Kalish, shortstop Yamaico Navarro and pitchers Jose Capellan and Dustin Richardson are competing for the North Shore Honu. In Arizona, the Scottsdale Scorpions’ roster includes right-handers Clay Buchholz, T.J. Large, Ryne Lawson and Beau Vaughn, first baseman Aaron Bates, outfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Mark Wagner.

Wagner is the Sox’ designated priority player — he doesn’t have to split time with a teammate — but the eyes of the organization will be on Buchholz. Although he no-hit the Orioles in his second major league start in 2007, he struggled this season and landed at Double-A Portland in August. Buchholz pitched a total of 134„ innings between the big leagues and minor leagues in 2008 after throwing 148 in 2007.

“I don’t think we necessarily need to see anything,” said Sox director of player development Mike Hazen. “I think there was a definite innings deficit that we’re looking to make up for, upwards of 25 to 30 innings. And then I think just sort of building on what he did down in Portland at the end of the season.”

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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