His play was the thing
Lester win aided by Pedroia catch
CHICAGO - The catch seemed improbable. Dustin Pedroia scrambled to the foul line in mid-range right field. He was in place in time, making a stellar over-the-shoulder grab, and firing the ball immediately to shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who doubled up Scott Podsednik at second for the first two outs for Jon Lester.
The play was pure Pedroia. But, more to the point, it saved Lester in the only moments in which he found himself in trouble throughout yesterday’s 6-1 victory over the White Sox. It was the only inning in which he allowed more than one base runner, with Podsednik reaching on an infield single and Jayson Nix walking. And then, Paul Konerko lofted a blooper that looked like it would fall. Not quite - thanks to the second baseman.
“I know Pedey didn’t get any hits, but he probably saves the game in the first inning,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “At best we’re looking at bases loaded, nobody out. Because I think everybody in the ballpark thought the ball was falling. Podsednik about scores, and we’re looking at a full-fledged rally with nobody out. For me, that was the play of the game, and we’re five minutes into the game.’’
That was mostly it for the White Sox, with five more meaningless hits (four singles and a double), all coming in different innings. So with Lester looking his best, and yet not feeling entirely comfortable, the lefthander continued a run that has grown ever more impressive in its dominance. In 17 of his last 18 starts, Lester has given up three earned runs or fewer. He did one better yesterday, allowing no runs over seven innings, and getting his 12th win of the season.
The Sox picked up a game on all their playoff-race rivals, as the Yankees, Rangers, and Rays lost. That leaves the Sox three games up on Texas in the wild-card chase. Boston is also seven games up on Tampa in the wild-card race and 7 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East.
“I’m not scoreboard watching to see what happens, although at this point you’re curious to see what Texas does, Tampa Bay, the Yankees,’’ Mike Lowell said. “I think that’s only human nature. If you don’t look at it, I think you’re probably lying . . . We gained a game on three people. That’s a good sign for us.’’
So too is the run by Lester. Though he hasn’t been getting as many wins as his pitching warrants, he has been incredible over his last 18 starts, in which he is 9-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He also managed to get his 200th strikeout, becoming the first lefty in Red Sox history to reach that mark, and the 10th pitcher (24th season) to get to 200. All on a day when he didn’t feel quite right.
“Just one of those days,’’ Lester said. “You have 30-some odd starts a year and you just have days where no matter what you do, it just doesn’t feel right. I just was cutting a lot of [pitches] off, but I was missing in good places. I was missing down, I was missing out of the zone. So I’d rather be doing that than missing out up over the plate and getting hurt.
“Today was just one of those battle days that you need to go through every once in a while. Just fortunate that we’re on the right side of it this time.’’
The Red Sox broke through against John Danks in the fourth inning when Lowell blasted a two-run homer to left. Another run resulted in the fifth when Jacoby Ellsbury (infield single) scored on Jason Bay’s single to left. Three insurance runs were added on a homer by Victor Martinez in the ninth, securing Boston’s first win of the four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field.
Meanwhile, Lester wasn’t allowing much. He gave up a single in the third, a double in the fourth, and a single in the sixth. He walked one in the seventh but escaped unscathed when he fanned Alex Rios with his season-high-tying 122d pitch. He then handed the ball over to the bullpen, which allowed only a solo home run by Ramon Castro off Billy Wagner.
“I’m not sure it’s a run,’’ Francona said of Lester. “I mean, the guy did it last year. He’s just good. He just kind of had to get himself locked in early in the season. He allows himself to continue to be powerful just because he stays in his delivery, works hard, takes care of himself.’’
“Last year was just more about comfort level, and get you used to pitching every five days at the big league level,’’ Lester said. “This year started out obviously not the way I would want [it] to, but I’m getting into a rhythm. I kept saying early on I need to string a few starts together and was able to do that from end of May on.
“Once you get that little bit of rhythm, you just stop worrying about, ‘OK, am I going to pitch bad? Am I going to pitch good? What am I going to have tonight?’ You just show up every five days and know I’m going to battle and, hopefully, we come out on top.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.