Lester becoming model of consistency

BOSTON -- For the better part of the past two months, the routine has been the same for Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.

Take the mound, dominate his opponent, talk about his start and, of course, answer the inevitable question or two relating to the contract extension talks that constantly hang over his head.

Will there be a postgame interview anytime soon that doesn’t fit the latter part of that formula?

“Probably not,” Lester said. “Especially in the second half.”

Such was the case on Sunday as Lester put together yet another dominant outing, throwing eight shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals on his way to notching his 10th win of the season. He allowed only four hits, struck out eight and walked two in his team’s 6-0 win to sweep the series.

Lester has allowed only one earned run in his past 31 innings pitched and has held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in each of his past seven starts, matching his career-long streak in that category.

“[He was] as he’s been for a majority of the season,” manager John Farrell said. “Through the month here he’s been outstanding.”

Entering the start winless in July despite two strong outings, Lester, making his first start since the All-Star break, came out strong, topping out at 97 mph on the Fenway Park radar gun and overpowering leadoff man Lorenzo Cain for a swinging strikeout to kick things off.

However, perhaps he had a little too much in the tank as he ran into trouble by hitting Eric Hosmer and giving up a single to Danny Valencia. He escaped the inning unharmed by inducing a fly out from Alex Gordon.

“I felt good after that first inning,” Lester said. “Kind of overthrowing a little bit. First start coming back after the break, felt almost too good. After that, settled in. Felt a lot better after that.”

The next seven innings were business as usual for Lester, retiring eight in a row from the second out of the second to the start of the fifth and scattering hits and walks so that only three Royals made it into scoring position the rest of the afternoon. His defense played well to back him, highlighted by a Brock Holt barehanded play on a slow roller in the second and Stephen Drew diving to his left on a grounder up the middle in the eighth to start a double play.

“Brock saved me in that one inning, that's a big spot right there after we scored a couple of runs,” Lester said. “Obviously right there with Stephen -- that's a huge turn for us. Late in the game you don't want to give them any momentum back. He made that play kind of out of nowhere.”

There also was the ever-present guidance of David Ross behind the plate, leading Lester along while contributing with the bat in the form of a two-run home run in the fourth inning that broke the game open. The home run was Ross’ fourth in his last 10 starts, as well as his 11th extra-base hit out of his 20 total on the season.

“I think over the last 10 games he’s played he’s had a little bit of a flair for the moment with the home run capability,” Farrell said of Ross.

“It was nice hitting a home run, giving us a little bit of a cushion,” Ross said. “Jon didn’t need much today but it was nice to get a little breathing room.”

“I’m just trying to have good at-bats and pull out a W.”

A major league veteran of 13 years, Ross wasted no time when asked if Lester was among the best pitchers he has ever caught before answering in the affirmative. He remarked that not only is Lester in his group of elite pitchers that he has caught, but he’s elite throughout the game of baseball.

“Honestly, if he’s not in the elite group, somebody hasn’t been playing baseball or watching Jon Lester pitch,” Ross said.

That status among the league’s best is perhaps what continues to invoke the contract inquiries as Lester’s value seems to go up with each dominant start. For Lester, the contract talk has been white noise as he looks to keep focused on the task at hand in leading his team’s rotation through the second half of season.

“I don't pay attention to what's said about me off the field,” Lester said. “Just try to make sure I go out there and pitch well for these guys in here. If these guys are happy with what I'm throwing and how I'm going about my business, then that's all I care about.”

Those are welcome words for Farrell, who has been asked to chime in on the matter as well each time his ace takes the mound.

“I think he’s been a model for others to witness as players get to that stage of their career,” Farrell said. “He’s been able to handle it in a professional manner. He’s been very forthright in not wanting it to be a distraction to his teammates or us as a team. And he’s been able to go out and maintain that high level of focus.

“For those who see Jon the days in between starts, as much as the day he takes the mound, it’s a very driven, very focused person. I’m not surprised by the way he’s handled this.”