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Yankees 9, Red Sox 5

Bruised and battered

Lester escapes serious injury in Red Sox’ loss

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 26, 2009

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NEW YORK - The image of Jon Lester falling to the ground, writhing in pain as the Red Sox training staff streamed out of the dugout, was startling. He dropped immediately, the ball slamming off the side of the right knee, his face turning a shade of red. He stayed down. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez said to himself, “Oh my God.’’

It was a line drive off the bat of Melky Cabrera that did it, coming with the bases loaded and Lester already in trouble. He had just thrown his 78th pitch, getting only seven outs. It would be his final pitch of the night. He allowed eight hits, five runs, and walked three in 2 1/3 innings.

Word came in the fourth inning that Lester had X-rays at Yankee Stadium and they were negative. The diagnosis is a contusion of the right quadriceps muscle and he is listed as day to day.

“It’s very scary when a pitcher gets hit like that,’’ Gonzalez said after the Red Sox’ 9-5 loss to the Yankees. “The hitter hit the ball very well. Nobody wants to get hurt, especially in this moment, especially Lester, one of the best pitchers we have on the club. Thank God it’s nothing serious.’’

Panic was tempered as the diagnosis emerged. Hearts stopped racing, and Lester might even make his next start, scheduled for Thursday at Fenway.

“He’s going to be OK,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “When it first happened, I think it looked terrible, it sounded terrible, he was in a lot of pain. I think it caught enough meat or muscle where it wasn’t just a direct blow on that bone. I actually think from talking to Dr. [Larry] Ronan, our trainers, he might be right on turn. The fact that we’re even talking about that is good news.’’

When Lester stood up the Yankee Stadium crowd of 48,449 gave him an ovation. He walked off the field under his own power, with the hand of trainer Paul Lessard firmly on his back, as the staff tried to keep him from putting too much weight on his knee and leg. He traveled down the steps from the dugout to the clubhouse, followed quickly by David Ortiz. The pitcher disappeared for X-rays and the ministrations of the training staff.

Asked how he felt after the game, Lester said “fine’’ as he stood in front of his locker with a sleeve covering his right leg from his thigh to his calf. “Anytime you take a ball off any part of your body, you’re worried,’’ he said. “But everything came back fine. Move forward and treat it and go from there.

“It hurt. I don’t know what other type of reaction you want. It hurt, hit off my knee, going about Mach 7.’’

And with the speed the sound was there, a sound heard by Gonzalez at shortstop and the Yankees’ Nick Swisher, who was on first base.

“I could hear it,’’ said Swisher, who had walked. “Melky hit that ball hard right up the middle. I hope [Lester] is going to be OK. We’re rivals and all that, but you don’t want to see anybody get a serious injury.’’

“It was obviously hit pretty hard,’’ catcher Jason Varitek said. “On one hand, I’m glad it was on his lower half than on his upper half, up toward the head or anything. You don’t wish that on anybody. I don’t think that anybody does.

“You look how far the ball ricocheted off him, it didn’t hit the soft part of his body. It hit a bony part.’’

If soreness becomes a problem in the next couple of days, Lester’s plans to pitch Thursday could be affected. He stated in no uncertain terms he would like to make another start before the postseason. The results last night weren’t exactly what he’s accustomed to.

“Every time he made a mistake, they really made him pay for it,’’ Francona said. “They made him work real hard, throw a lot of pitches, and when he left the balls over the plate, they hit them pretty good.’’

The Yankees also had seven steals, the second most for an American League team this season. The most, eight, came twice. Both were against Varitek and the Red Sox. So with their battered pitching staff, the Sox gave up nine runs among Lester, Hunter Jones, Michael Bowden, and Manny Delcarmen, which included a monster night for Alex Rodriguez (3 for 3 with a homer, 3 runs, 4 RBIs, and 2 walks).

Lester allowed one run in the first inning before things truly fell apart. Mark Teixeira led off the third with a single. That was followed by a two-run homer to left by Rodriguez, then a single by Hideki Matsui, the one out Lester would get in the inning (Jorge Posada flied to right), a double by Robinson Cano, and a walk to Swisher. Then Cabrera came to the plate.

Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain reemerged from a stretch in which he had an 8.25 ERA over his last nine starts. He allowed three runs in six innings, coughing up a solo home run to Victor Martinez and a two-run shot by Ortiz.

The Sox could not gain ground in the wild-card race, their magic number remaing at three with the Rangers winning, making tomorrow the earliest the Sox can clinch a postseason berth.

No matter. The most important news came via an X-ray as the Sox learned that Lester had no structural damage and that he was unlikely to be lost for any significant amount of time. That seemed unthinkable as he was down on the mound, his face contorted, moaning in pain.

“It hit me in a spot where it didn’t do any damage that hopefully won’t make me miss any time,’’ Lester said. “I guess we’re thankful for that.

“When you get hit like that, with the pain and everything, you’re hoping that it’s not a serious injury. But, like I said, fortunately there’s nothing broken. No bone spurs or nothing like that sticking out that they could see. Everything right now is fine. Everything, as far as I know, is in line for my next start.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com

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