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Red Sox 6, Indians 1

Lester, Sox sharp

He allows 2 hits in 6 solid innings

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 26, 2008
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There was no drama; there were no questions before the game. It was almost as if some other team were arriving in town today.

Not Red Sox and Yankees. Not when the pregame conversations had more to do with weather forecasts than rivalries, at least those not involving the Rays. This was probably not how this series was envisioned when the schedule was concocted.

So, yes, the Yankees are in Boston for the final regular-season series of 2008. But there will be no division title at stake, at least for New York. For the Red Sox, hope is still alive.

"We've got to win out and they've got to lose out," Jason Varitek said last night of Tampa Bay. "We just focus on playing good baseball, and let things happen. We can't control what they do."

What the Rays did yesterday afternoon was lose their series opener against the Tigers in Detroit. But there are three more games. Three more chances for the Rays to win the American League East. Also three more chances for the Sox to lose, as the Yankees no doubt would like to keep the Sox from snagging one last celebration before the postseason begins.

With Tampa Bay losing, the Sox beat the Indians, 6-1, last night behind five no-hit innings from Jon Lester. So, at least tonight there will be something to play for, just not for the New Yorkers, who took their last stab at glory this season by closing down Yankee Stadium last Sunday. The Rays' magic number is one. The Sox have slim hope, but hope nonetheless.

"You're going out there and you're still trying to win baseball games regardless of what's at stake," Jason Bay said. "A lot of it is out of our control, being if they win one game it's really irrelevant. But you still go out there and you still try to win as many games as possible. Until it's set in stone, it's not set in stone. It's highly unlikely, but it's still there."

So, given the state of this weekend's opponents, the fanfare will be limited, the excitement muted, especially with a monsoon predicted today.

But last night there was a game to play.

To liven up the final game of the series between the Sox and Indians, Game No. 159 this season, Lester took it upon himself to try to make the 37,726 at Fenway Park believe in his magic once again. It didn't last long enough for them - or him - to begin to hold their breath, but it certainly looked like he was ready for the postseason.

"Pretty much everything [was working]," Varitek said. "He was powerful, once again, and we were able to mix in his curveball, his changeup, his cutter, his sinker. Able to pitch to both sides of the plate. That's why he had such a solid performance."

On the second pitch of the sixth inning, Josh Barfield lined a double to left field, erasing any thoughts Lester might have had of recording a second no-hitter this season, at least on this night. Lester had gone five innings without giving up a hit, though he had allowed two base runners.

It would go no further, but it didn't have to. Lester went six innings and allowed a run on two hits in his last start before a presumed Game 2 outing against the Angels in the playoffs. And even if he hadn't given up the hit to Barfield, he wasn't going to go much longer than 85 pitches. He got to 86. He finishes the season as the Sox' leader with 210 1/3 innings.

"He was coming out," manager Terry Francona said. "I told him that was the first time I've ever rooted against him."

Cleveland's starter, Jeremy Sowers, wasn't so sharp. The Sox scored three runs in the first inning, then two in the second. Sowers got through six, but Tom Mastny was victimized by Kevin Youkilis's 28th home run of the season in the seventh inning.

The Sox managed to wrap up the game - their 94th win of the season - in just 2 hours 32 minutes. Perhaps they were preparing for a weekend of delays, or for a weekend of typical Red Sox-Yankees baseball.

Regardless, it was a welcome relief for Francona to get through yesterday without the usual Yankees talk, without the prelude to yet another series between the teams.

"That's OK," he said. "That's fine with us."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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