Lester to the rescue
His saving effort helps Sox snap skid
Red Sox manager Terry Francona talks about Jon Lester's performance and Jason Varitek's clutch hitting following Boston's 4-0 triumph over Seattle Monday night.
SEATTLE - Two popular notions, that the Red Sox can't win on the road and Jon Lester can't win when he's home, exploded last night on Boston's first night in the great Northwest.
Sox catcher Jason Varitek hit a two-run home run, just his second in 42 games, rookie Jed Lowrie added a two-run single and Lester - at maximum strength following a 12-day vacation arranged by manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell - gave family and friends their first in-the-flesh demonstration at how far he's progressed since his days at nearby Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma.
Lester has pitched in Safeco Field twice before - but never with the authority he displayed in last night's 4-0 win over the Mariners, which he began by inducing Ichiro Suzuki to strike out on a pitch below sea level and was barely touched thereafter.
"I looked up in the fifth or sixth inning and he'd thrown only 11 balls," Francona said. "Those were quality pitches, too. That was terrific. You hope when you give a guy rest, you hope it's not too much."
Lester was strong into the eighth inning, when the Mariners loaded the bases on three singles, the last a sharp comebacker by Willie Bloomquist that caromed off Lester's right shin, dropping the lefthander into a sitting position. Trainer Paul Lessard and Francona came out to the mound, Lester walking off with Lessard.
Francona brought in Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't pitched since last Tuesday's All-Star Game, and the Sox closer required just two pitches to end the inning, Raul Ibanez grounding into a double play.
"Hit [Lester] in the shin - he's OK," Francona said. "It was time to get Paps anyway."
Lester, who failed to go beyond five innings in his previous two starts here (9 ER in 10 IP, an 8.10 ERA), did not allow a base runner to advance to third through seven innings. Adrian Beltre had two ground-ball singles, one off the pitcher's glove, and Yuniesky Betancourt doubled over J.D. Drew's head in the third, but that was the sum of the Seattle offense until Ibanez singled to open the seventh. One out later, Jose Lopez grounded a single that Lowrie halted with a dive, but the ball squirted free before Lowrie could flip to second for a force.
But Lester got Miguel Cairo to flail at a curveball that broke at his ankles for the second out, and retired pinch hitter Jose Vidro on a liner to right to end Seattle's threat. Vidro was hitting for Bryan LaHair, a rookie first baseman from Worcester's Holy Name High School playing in just his third big-league game. LaHair struck out and tapped to Lester in his only two at-bats last night.
"Lester stepped up," said Papelbon, whose 29th save enabled Lester to run his record to 8-3 while dropping his ERA to 3.20. "He's stepping up for us. He's a guy right now we're kind of leaning on, and that's what he's done for us."
The Sox had lost three straight in Anaheim to start the post-All-Star break schedule, the second time the club has been swept in their last three road series and sixth time this season. They'd lost five in a row on the road, 10 of their last 12, and were 21-32 overall away from Fenway. With both the Rays and Yankees winning last night, the Sox were in danger of being closer to third place than first by night's end.
"Get ahead, go from there," said Lester, who smiled when asked about an earlier visit to the mound by Francona and Lessard, after he appeared to be in some discomfort. Turns out it was a wardrobe malfunction.
And while the Sox, who left 13 on base, didn't exactly shake an offensive malaise in which they'd scored a total of eight runs in three losses to the Angels, they mustered enough to make a winner out of Lester, who is unbeaten in his last nine decisions dating to May 25.
No one was more relieved than Varitek, who has been burdened with the worst slump of his career, one that had lasted a quarter of the season and put him at the very bottom of big-league hitters: 9 for 79, .114, in his last 26 games, 18 for 133, .135, in his last 41 games.
But Varitek looped a single to right in the third, then launched a full-count pitch from Jarrod Washburn (4-9) over the left-field fence for his eighth home run of the season to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the fifth.
"It was a good part of the game, good for the team," he said of his home run. Good for him as well? "It's always good, every time you hit a two-run home run," he said.
The Sox left the bases loaded in the sixth, Varitek, batting from the left side, striking out against Mark Lowe to end the inning, and left two more on in the seventh.
But they doubled their lead in the eighth. Kevin Youkilis was hit by a pitch and Coco Crisp singled, breaking an 0-for-21 skid. New Seattle manager Jim Riggleman replaced Lowe with lefty Cesar Jimenez, who walked Varitek to load the bases and gave up a two-run single to Lowrie.
Lowrie distinguished himself by flagging down Betancourt's flare to left in the sixth.