Jon Lester did something Saturday night that many were beginning to think was impossible: He made Masahiro Tanaka look like the second-best pitcher at Yankee Stadium.
Lester said he realized Friday he would be opposing Tanaka. Outperforming the Yankees' ace wasn't on the Red Sox pitcher's mind then; simply beating the Yankees was.
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"No," Lester said when asked if he looked ahead and became motivated by the matchup. "If you're worried about that, you're worried about the wrong things at the wrong times. I try not to pay attention to that. I got to worry about how I'm going to go out and execute my game."
Lester outdueled Tanaka (yes, gasping here is OK) in Boston's 2-1 win. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and allowed an unearned run, five hits and two walks in eight innings to lift his record to 9-7.
Tanaka (11-3, 2.10 ERA) gave up seven hits and a walk and struck out eight in a complete game, but he allowed two home runs, including Mike Napoli's tiebreaking shot with two outs in the top of the ninth.
"I think we all expect that from ourselves regardless of who you're pitching against," said Lester, who lowered his ERA to 2.92.
Lester knew he had to be at the top of his game for the offense-challenged Red Sox to win.
"Obviously, yeah, he's been tough all year for guys and adapted very well over here," Lester said of Tanaka. "But as a pitcher, you have to worry about the nine guys in the lineup, not the guy on the mound."
Lester dominated, allowing only Derek Jeter's RBI groundout in the third. The Yankees threatened to break a 1-1 tie in the eighth when Brett Gardner led off with a walk and Jeter worked a 3-and-1 count. But on his hard grounder toward the middle, Dustin Pedroia made a diving stop and shoveled a throw to Stephen Drew, who fired to first to complete a double play.
"He's been our ace," manager John Farrell said of Lester. "He made some really big pitches, especially to Jeter in that eighth inning."
Said Lester, "I just tried to keep the guys in the ballgame as best I can."
This was the second time Lester and Tanaka opposed one another. Tanaka won Round 1 in a far less riveting April 22 contest. That one ended poorly for Lester: 11 hits, four walks and eight runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings.
Red Sox catcher David Ross, who also homered off Tanaka, said that early-season start was an anomaly for Lester.
"He's an ace," Ross said. "Whether against [Max] Scherzer or [Chris] Sale or whoever, he's going toe-to-toe with these guys."
Saturday night, that included Tanaka.