BOSTON - Jon Lester just wants to be treated as a normal pitcher.
That was tough when he had cancer. It became harder when he won the deciding game of the World Series. Then, on Monday night, the Boston Red Sox lefty pitched the only no-hitter in the majors so far this season.
But he could have been known as the pitcher who was traded for Johan Santana.
"I'm real happy I'm here," Lester said yesterday at Fenway Park after a restless night and plenty of text messages. "I'm glad it didn't happen. But if it did happen, you're part of a trade for the best pitcher in baseball. It's not a bad thing to be in."
The 24-year-old lefty was the centerpiece of offseason talks between Boston and Minnesota. Santana eventually went to the New York Mets and Lester ended up starting the second game of the season in Tokyo against the A's.
That's the next team he'll pitch against, on Sunday in Oakland, and that's the game he's focusing on.
"In 6 days, I want to be treated like anybody else," Lester said. "I just want to go out there and pitch and, hopefully, pitch well against the A's and move on and pitch against the next opponent."
For now, the repercussions of his gem in a 7-0 win over the Kansas City Royals continue.
The Hall of Fame was given a game-used baseball, Lester's cleats, and the catching equipment of Jason Varitek, who caught his fourth no-hitter, a major league record.
Lester appeared on a television show in which cancer survivor Lance Armstrong called in. He even was asked at a news conference about Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor yesterday.
"Obviously, my prayers are with him and his family and hopefully everything turns out all right," Lester said. "Fight it and try to get back to as normal as you can."
Lester missed the end of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and started only 11 games in 2007.
But he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the fourth game of the World Series when Boston completed a four-game sweep of Colorado.
Lester had an overpowering fastball, his hardest since 2005, against the Royals.
He also got into a quicker tempo between pitches. He has been working with pitching coach John Farrell to do that rather than take too much time analyzing each pitch before throwing again, a problem that "takes a lot out of the fielders," who aren't as well prepared as they would be with a quicker pace, Lester said.
"It's changed my game a lot," he said. "It's helped me take a lot of bad thoughts out of my head in-between pitches."
Lester is 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA this season. But in his last five starts, he's 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA. On Monday, he allowed just two runners on walks and struck out nine, including Albert Callaspo to end the game. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s.
"He was throwing 95 [mph] a couple of years ago before the sickness," Farrell said. "It looks like it's back."
Lester usually has trouble sleeping after he pitches, and the excitement of his no-hitter added to that. He spoke with his parents. His mother, Kathie, watched the game on her computer at home. His father, John, who gets nervous when his son pitches, spent part of the game in his garage.
Francona got Lester's dad's phone number from Jon but dialed a wrong number.
"I was congratulating somebody that had no idea what I was talking about," Francona said. "I'm just jumping right into the conversation. I could tell, boy this guy's not being very friendly . . . realized I wrote a seven instead of a nine."
Lester's phone will get less use as the days go on and the congratulatory calls stop.
And that's just fine with a special pitcher who longs for normalcy. *