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Lester beats Tribe in post-cancer debut Boston starter throws six strong innings

Jon Lester is back on the mound and that was all the news the Boston Red Sox really needed to get Monday in Jacobs Field. Because even though there was a game to play, baseball was really a footnote on this night.

His career short-circuited by a cancer diagnosis last September, Lester made a triumphant return to the major leagues by throwing six strong innings in Boston's 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.

The 23-year-old left-hander's parents traveled from the family home in Seattle to be in the stands for his comeback night. And Lester got a big ovation when he took the mound in the bottom of the first from a huge contingent of Red Sox fans in the crowd of 32,439.

"In a day or two, it will finally hit home that this happened," Lester said. "But right now it's just a lot of excitement and a lot of happiness. I figured the day would come. I just didn't know when. I'm fortunate enough for it to be this early on."

Lester allowed just five hits, including Grady Sizemore's two-run homer in the third. He struck out six and walked three in throwing 96 pitches while consistently putting his fastball around 92 mph.

"Impressed. Proud. A lot of adjectives," said Boston manager Terry Francona, speaking slowly to maintain his composure. "It was supposed to be his night."

Lester, a seven-game winner as a rookie last year, had not pitched for Boston since last Aug. 23. He learned on Sept. 1 that he had anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer.

After six chemotherapy treatments, he was deemed cancer-free in December and reported on time to spring training although he still must undergo four checkups a year to look for recurrences.

"He's worked his whole life to get to the big leagues," said Boston third baseman Mike Lowell, himself a survivor of testicular cancer in 1999. "I don't think he wants to stop now. A true defining moment for him would be to make a big-league career out of this. Then the story is that much better."

The Sox have taken his comeback slowly, keeping him out of big-league spring training and in the minors. He was 4-5, 3.61 at Triple-A Pawtucket and finally got the call when struggling fifth starter Julian Tavarez was sent to the bullpen.

"You root for a guy in life first and foremost," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said before the game. "You hope he has a long healthy life. Look how far he's come."

Lester retired six of the final seven men he faced and that streak began when he fanned Sizemore on a 93-mph fastball to leave the bases loaded in the fourth. His parents, John and Kathie, were cheering wildly behind the dugout after that strikeout.

"They've been through a lot," Lester said. "It's been a long offseason. It's definitely good to have them here to share the fruits of the labor and enjoy the moment."

Boston got a quick jump on Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook (1-6) with a four-run first highlighted by Manny Ramirez's two-run double. Another former Indian, leadoff man Coco Crisp, went 4 for 5 and scored three runs as the Sox maintained their 7 1/2 -game AL East lead over New York.

The quick offense was all Lester needed to keep control of the game. It was a little tougher, he said, to control his emotions.

"It was very emotional in the first inning and I just tried to keep the butterflies in check a little bit," Lester said. "Once I got that first pitch under my belt, it was good after that."

"He's got to be as healthy as anyone: a big-league pitcher in good shape at 23," Lowell said. "It shows [cancer] can jump on anyone but it can be beaten and you can get back to a point where you can enjoy life."

The series continues tonight at 7 as Cleveland lefty C.C. Sabathia (13-4, 3.81), the AL co-victory leader, meets Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka (11-7, 3.99).


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