ST. PETERSBURG -- Daisuke Matsuzaka has 18 victories and thrilling high-wire acts, while Josh Beckett carries a postseason resume worthy of praise.
No matter. When the even-up American League Championship Series reaches Fenway Park for Game 3 on Monday, the Red Sox will be sending their ace to the mound against the Rays in the person of Jon Lester.
Lester is 2-0 in three postseason starts this year, and he could have earned a third October victory if the Red Sox had been able to hang on to a two-run lead after he departed Game 4 of the AL Division Series vs. the Angels. But Lester does not consider his approach as taking his game to a new level for the final month.
"I don't look at it that way," Lester said. "I look at it as going out and giving my team a quality start. It doesn't matter what the game or the series is. You try to give the team a quality start and do the best you can, and hopefully come out on top."
The 24-year-old left-hander is coming off a dominant start against the Angels in Game 4 of the ALDS, as the Red Sox avoided a cross-country flight back to California for a decisive Game 5 in Anaheim by securing a 3-2 victory and moving on to the ALCS.
Taking care of business with the Angels, Lester allowed four hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings while striking out four in a no-decision that he credited, in large part, to the guiding presence of catcher Jason Varitek.
"It's going to be a grind, but we're up for the challenge, and hopefully we can pull it out," Lester said. "I feel good. My mind-set is good, my focus is good.
"It really all falls on 'Tek. He does a good job of keeping a good pace back there and calling a good game. You have a lot of faith in what he does and his preparation."
But Lester has accomplished plenty on his own accord. Dating back to Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, Lester has made three career postseason starts and not allowed an earned run over 19 2/3 innings.
"He's been doing it the whole second half of the season," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said. "He has a great assortment of pitches. Everybody knows he has an overwhelming cutter. You look at the way the curveball has come along and his overall command, and he's pretty tough to beat."
As strong as Beckett's track record may be in print, Lester is continuing to make a case that he can assemble just as praiseworthy a run. Lester did allow two earned runs coming out of the bullpen during an ALCS game last season, but otherwise, he's been untouched in October.
Lester faced the Rays three times in 2008, all at Fenway Park and all Red Sox wins. He was sharp in every one, allowing two runs in 20 innings for a sparkling 0.90 ERA.
Of those, his last was the best. On Sept. 8, Lester stifled the Rays over 7 2/3 scoreless innings, scattering six hits while walking three and striking out nine to pick up his 14th victory en route to a 16-6 season.
"It obviously helps to have a defense like we have," Lester said. "You can let them hit the ball. It just makes it easier on you mentally to know that they're going to make great plays for you every night and you don't have to be perfect."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.