Halladay-Lester a study in pitching mastery

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Their worlds may collide again in June, when the Red Sox travel to Philadelphia for interleague play, or in October, should the Red Sox and Phillies meet in the World Series, a popular forecast this spring.

But even in March, when it is really little more than controlled exercise, seeing Sox left-hander Jon Lester pitch against Roy Halladay is a study in virtuosity.

Lester held the Phillies hitless until Halladay lined a single to right-center with two out in the fifth. Halladay, who had not given up an earned run in three previous spring starts, was touched for one by the Red Sox in the fifth, when Jed Lowrie doubled and came around to score on an infield out and sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who took advantage on a throwing error by Lester to score a run in the third, added three in the sixth even though they squared up only one ball, Ryan Howard’s line single on a 3-and-1 pitch. The line score will show that Halladay, who pitched into the eighth, prevailed 4-1. But any impartial observer went away recognizing that the pitchers were a fair match for one another.

“It’s always been fun watching him just go through a lineup,” Lester said of Halladay. “He does it every time he goes out there. You would think he’d run out of ways to get you out, but he somehow manages to keep doing it. It’s impressive. That’s what makes him one of the [elite pitchers], if not the elite guy, around right now.”

But Lester has had a way of giving Halladay an eyeful too, going back to when Doc was with the Toronto Blue Jays. The first time Lester faced Halladay was in 2008, the left-hander’s first full season with the Red Sox. Lester held the Jays to one hit, a fifth-inning single by Lyle Overbay, in a 1-0 duel won by the Red Sox in the ninth inning on a two-out single off Halladay by Kevin Youkilis.

They would meet again twice that September. Lester prevailed the first time, holding the Jays to a run on four hits through eight innings. Six days later, Halladay got the win, 6-3, Marco Scutaro delivering a two-run double during a four-run Jays rally in the second.

The two would face each other once more, Halladay winning another tight pitching duel, 3-1, on Aug. 19, 2009. The next season, he was in the National League, and Lester did not face the Phillies in 2010. The teams play each other three times June 28-30 in Philadelphia.

So while Lester, who was lifted with one out in the sixth after throwing 98 pitches, expressed his admiration for the way Halladay creatively works through a lineup, he has the same knack. How does he keep inventing himself?

“Learn as you go,” Lester said. “Take it one pitch at a time. I think that’s what makes [Halladay] so special. He throws a pitch and it’s forgotten about, whether it’s good or bad. And he just continues to do that. He focuses on what he needs to do the next pitch and obviously, his stuff is so good, he gets away with some mistakes. That’s the biggest thing, when guys go good, you get away with some mistakes. That’s the luck of pitching.”