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 catcher Jason Varitek's target, Lester disregarded the fluttering in his stomach, rocked into his windup and fired a called strike, the pitch he had dreamed of making for 11 months.
Monday night, Lester crowned a courageous comeback from cancer with a victory.
The left-hander, 23, whose rookie season ended 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 Indians.
"I figured the day would come," Lester said. "I just didn't know when. It's just nice to be back."
With his parents on the edges of their seats near Boston's dugout, Lester easily handled the Indians, the team with the AL's best home record.
"It was supposed to be his night," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He just really competes."
Lester had been in the midst of a stellar first season when a visit to the doctor for back pain resulted in a startling find. He was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma days after he improved to 7-2 with a win over the Angels on Aug. 23.
During the next few months, Lester had six chemotherapy sessions. He was declared cancer-free in December but must still have periodic checkups.
"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."
QUOTABLE: "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." Curt Schilling, Red Sox pitcher