BOSTON -- Pitching in Game 1 of the World Series should be enough motivation for any player to want to be at his best on baseball's biggest stage, but when Red Sox starter Jon Lester steps on the mound, there's a little extra inspiration for the veteran left-hander.
On the side of his black leather mitt, Lester has the name "ZEIN" written with a silver Sharpie. When the Red Sox traveled to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers in late August, Lester met Zein and his family. Zein is 6 years old and battling cancer.
"I take him out there with me every time I pitch," said Lester, a cancer survivor himself, after he led the Red Sox to an 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. "He's a pretty special kid."
Zein, who underwent a bone-marrow procedure Oct. 9, sent Lester a good-luck video earlier this week in preparation for the World Series. Lester delivered a vintage performance, working 7 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing only 5 hits with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. He tossed 112 pitches (76 strikes) to give Boston the early advantage in this best-of-seven series.
Lester, who won the 2007 World Series clincher against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4, was in total command Wednesday night. He was in control of all of his pitches and using both sides of the plate. Once his teammates gave him a 5-0 lead after two innings, Lester kept the pressure on and never allowed the Cardinals to create any sort of offense.
The one time St. Louis threatened, loading the bases with one out in the top of the fourth inning, Lester started a 1-2-3 double play to get out of the inning.
"It was big," Lester said of the double play. "Obviously with us scoring some early runs there, [I] just wanted to, especially in the middle innings, get some shutdown innings and get the guys back in the dugout. That one got a little away from me, but was fortunate enough to get a pitch down to [David] Freese there and get a ground ball. [Catcher David Ross] did a great job of making sure that we got the first out at home and then made a good throw to [first baseman Mike] Napoli. That was obviously a big inning for us and to shut that down and not let any runs score."
Lester then retired 11 of the next 13 batters he faced before Red Sox manager John Farrell made a pitching change with two outs in the top of the eighth inning.
Overall, in the two World Series games he has pitched, Lester has not allowed a run and surrendered only eight hits, with 11 strikeouts.
"He was unbelievable," said fellow Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, who is slated to start Game 4 on Sunday in St. Louis. "That's the Jon Lester I remember coming up with and watching on TV. He's a fierce competitor and whenever you can break out your third pitch in the seventh inning, that speaks for itself. He did an unbelievable job. It was fun to watch."
St. Louis was aggressive against Lester's fastball early in the count, but the southpaw made the proper adjustments and was able to work in his secondary pitches effectively.
"We used both sides of the plate, he did a great job of that. ... His command, I told him after we scored five, we both talked, I said, 'Hey, we gotta keep putting the pressure on them,'" said Ross. "'We gotta keep making our pitches, we can't just lay heaters in there. These guys are a dangerous lineup.' He did it. He said, 'I know,' he knew before I even got it out of my mouth."
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has played behind Lester for both of the pitcher's World Series starts. In fact, Pedroia has been on the field for all 12 of the left-hander's postseason outings. Wednesday was the best he's seen.
"He's been pretty darn good," Pedroia said. "Tonight, there weren't too many mistakes. I'd say probably the best one so far.
"He was great. He's like that all the time. We're used to seeing it, but this is a big stage. He was locating both sides, his cutter's always great and that opens up everything for him."
When he's not pitching, Lester wears a bracelet to honor Zein. After the game, Lester was at his locker and ready for his postgame news conference when he realized he left Zein's bracelet in the training room. He grabbed it before he met with the media, and admitted his Game 1 performance was for his young friend.
"Doing it for him, and a few other people," Lester said.
He delivered for more folks than he'll ever know.