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Lester beats Indians in return to big leagues

• Hero: Lester allowed five hits and two runs while walking three and striking out six in his first major league action since Aug. 23.

• Unsung hero: Coco Crisp went 4-for-5 with three runs scored for Boston.

• Figure this: Jake Westbrook gave up four runs in the first and is now 1-6.

• Quotable: "This isn't even about baseball. It
just doesn't get any better the way a guy like that comes back to
us." -- Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling

-- ESPN.com news services

Red Sox 6, Indians 2

CLEVELAND (AP) _ As the emotions washed over him, Jon Lester
stood on the mound and squeezed the baseball tightly in his left
hand.

This was the moment, his moment.

Staring at Boston catcher Jason Varitek's target, Lester
disregarded the fluttering in his stomach, rocked into his windup
and fired his first pitch -- a called strike, the one he had dreamed
of making for 11 months.

On Monday night, Lester crowned a courageous comeback from
cancer with a victory.

The young pitcher, whose rookie season ended suddenly when he
was diagnosed with a treatable form of lymphoma, pitched six
innings to lead the Red Sox to a 6-2 win over the Cleveland
Indians.

"I figured the day would come," Lester said. "I just didn't
know when. It's just nice to be back."

Working to major leaguers while his parents sat on the edges of
their seats near Boston's dugout, Lester allowed two runs and five
hits to easily handle the Indians, the team with the AL's best home
record.

Lester's journey back couldn't have had a better checkpoint.

"It was supposed to be his night," Red Sox manager Terry
Francona said. "He just really competes."

The 23-year-old left-hander had been in the midst of a stellar
first season when a visit to the doctor for back pain resulted in a
startling find that threatened his life and stunned Red Sox Nation.

Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma just
days after he improved to 7-2 with a win over the Los Angeles
Angels on Aug. 23.

Over the next months, Lester would undergo six chemotherapy
sessions that eventually eradicated the disease. Still, there would
be other hurdles to overcome as the Red Sox cautiously handled his
return.

But in the opener of a four-game series, Lester showed the same
form that made him instantly popular at Fenway Park, where he is
certain to have another emotional game when he finally pitches
there again.

Lester was relieved to be back in the big leagues, knowing how
quickly it can all be taken away. He was declared cancer-free by
doctors in December but must still have periodic checkups to make
sure the disease hasn't returned.

"I'm just trying to put it behind me and move on and just go
back to pitching and not worry about things," he said. "But right
now every three months I have to go back and get that reality
check. Hopefully we can put it behind us and just win some games."

Coco Crisp went 4-for-5 and scored three runs for Boston, which
jumped to a 5-0 lead in the second off Jake Westbrook (1-6).

Manny Ramirez had two RBIs as the Red Sox became the majors'
first team to reach 60 wins.

Grady Sizemore hit a two-run homer for the Indians, who opened
an 11-game homestand.

The sight of Lester walking to the mound drew a standing ovation
from pockets of Boston fans scattered throughout Jacobs Field, a
ballpark he didn't get to pitch in during his abbreviated first
season.

Any nervousness for Lester may have been soothed by his
teammates giving him a 4-0 lead before he threw a pitch.

"That definitely helps," he said. "That eases any pitcher's
mind getting four in the first. It makes it a little easier to go
out there and throw strikes."

Lester breezed through the first two innings, getting a double
play after hitting Ryan Garko opening the second.

In the third, Sizemore connected for a two-run homer off Lester,
who was in trouble again in the fourth.

The Indians loaded the bases with one out but Lester broke Josh
Barfield's bat on a comebacker that he bobbled before throwing home
to force Garko. With Sizemore back up, Lester's mom, Kathie,
couldn't watch as her son battled Cleveland's leadoff hitter.

When Lester finally blew a fastball past Sizemore for strike
three to end the threat, his father, John, and Kathie jumped up and
pumped their fists in celebration. However, she quickly sat back
down and resumed her doubled-up position, seemingly afraid to watch
anymore.

Lester said having his parents on hand made his return more
special.

"It meant a lot," he said. "They've been through a lot. It
was a long offseason, so it was good to have them here to enjoy the
moment."

At a time when sports headlines were dominated by an NBA betting
scandal, Michael Vick's alleged dogfighting involvement and an
ongoing steroid investigation that has tainted Barry Bonds' chase
of Henry Aaron's home run record, along came Lester.

"Wow, it's a great story," knuckleballer Tim Wakefield said.
"It's been a long road for him."

Lester's comeback has inspired the Red Sox, who were marveling
at his composure and maturity long before he began chemotherapy.

Lester, who became the first Red Sox rookie lefty to win his
first five decisions, had eased into Boston's rotation when cancer
imperiled his young life. But by December, he was throwing again
and he showed up at training camp two weeks before pitchers and
catchers were due.

Although he appeared ready, the Red Sox decided to bring Lester
along slowly, allowing him to pitch in the minors for more than
three months before recalling him Monday from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Lester's return figured to be an emotional one for his immediate
family and those who love him for the beloved "B" on his cap.

"This isn't even about baseball," Curt Schilling said. "It
just doesn't get any better the way a guy like that comes back to
us. It's about family. The big thing is he's a great human being
and that makes it an even better story. That wasn't your
run-of-the-mill DL stint."

Game Notes
Red Sox DH David Ortiz missed his third straight game after
injuring his left shoulder on a slide Friday. Ortiz hit off a tee
before the game and plans to take batting practice on Tuesday.
"Every day it feels better," he said. Ortiz noted that he got
hurt trying to stretch a single by challenging the arm of Chicago
right fielder Jermaine Dye. "I've run on him two times and both
times I was out, and both times I got hurt," he said. ... Garko
extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He's batting .463 over the
span. ... Manny Delcarmen pitched three innings for his first
career save. ... The Red Sox stopped a six-game road losing streak.