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Battle brewing


Battle brewing
In the fourth inning of the Red Sox' 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park, Sox starter Jon Lester blew a low fastball past the O's Nick Markakis for a called third strike. When they faced each other again in the sixth, Lester caught Markakis looking at a two-strike deuce for yet another punchout.

Lester wound up with seven shutout innings en route to his first victory of the season. He allowed just four hits. None of them were registered by Markakis, who went hitless in three at-bats against the Sox lefty. Yet despite yesterday's mismatch, it's quite possible we are in the early stages of what could be a terrific rivalry for years to come.

Now we aren't talking one of those testy Joba Chamberlain-Kevin Youkilis rivalries, with the Yankee righty seemingly putting one in Youk's ear each time they oppose one another. No. This rivalry is less dramatic, more sportsmanlike. Markakis and Lester are both 25. They both broke into the big leagues in 2006. They both became ``name'' players in 2007 - Markakis with 112 RBI during the regular season, Lester with his mastery of the Colorado Rockies in the clinching Game 4 of the World Series.

Even though he wasn't even eligible for arbitration, Lester signed a five-year, $30 million contract that extends through 2013. During the offseason, Markakis signed a six-year, $66.1 million contract with the Orioles. So you could say they were both big winners at the negotiating table and you'd be correct.

But New England Baseball connoisseurs are also winners: Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, we'll get to see these two bright young stars for years to come.

Markakis and Lester have yet to meet. But, said Markakis, ``I feel I've faced him enough times to know him pretty well. And I know he's tough. He's one of the better lefties in the league, and you have to tip your cap to him. He pitched a good game.'' Asked if he was looking fastball on that second punchout after taking a third-strike fastball in his second at-bat, Markakis said, ``I'm always looking fastball.''

Lester put it this way: ``With him, you can't repeat a lot. He's a quick adjuster at the plate. He sees a pitch out of your hand and he's going to sit on another pitch. You have to try to stay one step ahead of him.

``He's a tough out. He fouled off a lot of pitches today. I was fortunate to get him a couple of times. But he's always a tough out.''

It was not until they were both in the big leagues that the Lester-Markakis showdowns began taking place, and Lester has won most of them. Markakis now has 25 at-bats against Lester, with six hits and one RBI.

``When I first saw him, he was mainly a fastball, curveball, changeup guy,'' Markakis said. ``Now he throws a cutter in there. It makes him more difficult to hit against.''

Lester is a lefty. Markakis is a left-handed hitter. In the years ahead, are we going to see Markakis getting a day off when Lester is on the mound?

``I want to be in there against him,'' he said. ``Any time you face him, you know it's going to be a battle. I look forward to it. You're going to get your 0-fers some days, you're going to get your hits some days. Today, he came up on the wining end.''

Rest assured that Markakis is going to win his share of battles against Lester. He can play. He will make adjustments.

Let the chess games between these two young stars begin.

And let's sit back, watch and enjoy.

- sbuckley@bostonherald.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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