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Twins 5, Red Sox 2

Lester off target in Red Sox loss

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 13, 2010

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MINNEAPOLIS — The baseballs were hardly cooperating with Jon Lester, bouncing off gloves and bags, finding space in the outfield grass. There were unlucky moments, unlucky hits. But chance was not the only reason Lester lasted just five innings yesterday, giving up four runs and becoming the first losing pitcher in the history of Target Field, as the Twins beat the Red Sox, 5-2.

The baseballs weren’t coming out of Lester’s hand well, either. They were heading toward all sorts of unlikely locations, his command nearly nonexistent. And his April struggles continued.

The month has become a black mark on a lefthander with otherwise otherworldly stuff. Including yesterday’s outing, Lester has a 5.08 career ERA in March and April. His career ERA the rest of the year? It’s 3.50.

“I don’t think April has anything to do with it,’’ Lester said after the opener of the Twins’ gem of a new park. “Today I just stunk. Didn’t make pitches. I don’t really know what else to say.’’

In a whopping 107 pitches, Lester threw just 59 strikes, sprinkling three walks among the nine hits he allowed, though he struck out five. And then there was the bad luck. For example, the infield single by Joe Mauer in the fourth inning, when the ball missed Lester’s glove, hit the second base bag, and missed Marco Scutaro’s glove. It scored a runner from third.

It was enough to make it look as if the baseball gods wanted to ensure the Twins christened their park with a win. That is, unless Lester’s early-season numbers were considered.

“I just stunk,’’ Lester repeated. “I didn’t execute pitches today. You can look at it either way. I didn’t execute pitches. Ball that bounces off two gloves and hits a bag cost me. You can look at it as bad [luck], but I don’t really look at it that way. I look at it as not executing my pitches. I’ve got to do a better job.’’

The Twins began quickly, as Denard Span led off the first with a walk. That was followed by an Orlando Hudson single, then outs by the most threatening batters in the Twins order, Mauer and Justin Morneau. It appeared Lester might get out of it unscathed. But Michael Cuddyer singled, scoring Span, and Jason Kubel singled, scoring Hudson. In the second, Mauer doubled home Nick Punto. The final run off Lester came in the fourth, when Span walked again, stole second, and moved to third on a ground out, setting up Mauer’s lucky-bounce single.

“It looked like, from the very first hitter, he was kind of fighting working ahead in the count,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “His first-pitch strikes weren’t what he normally is. But he didn’t pitch into a lot of luck, either.’’

He also couldn’t control his pitches, and he got behind in the count. “I just didn’t have it today,’’ Lester said. “Some days you do, and some days you don’t. Today was one of them where I just didn’t have command of four pitches.’’

With David Ortiz falling deeper into a slump, despite one well-hit RBI double in the fourth, the Sox’ offense bowed to the Twins’ Carl Pavano. They had just seven hits, scoring their other run in the eighth, and they had just five hits after the first inning. While other bats had gotten hot in Kansas City, Ortiz’s remains cold, with the designated hitter having struck out in 10 of his last 14 at-bats, three of his last four looking.

In the fifth inning, Mike Cameron lifted a ball down the left-field line that narrowly missed being fair. Cameron said he thought it was foul but, after a moment, the umpires got together and went to the replay. They ruled it foul, and Cameron followed with a swinging strikeout. He tried again in the seventh, smashing a ball to deep center, but it was caught. Close, but not close enough.

Like Lester, in some ways. He’s close, but hasn’t hit his spots, hasn’t shown who he is and what he will become. He won’t have a 7.20 ERA all season. He just hasn’t been himself. Or, rather, he’s been his April self so far.

“He didn’t bring his best stuff today,’’ catcher Victor Martinez said. “He was having trouble commanding the baseball. He was falling behind in the count. A lineup like the Twins, you fall behind in the count, and sooner or later you’ve got to throw strikes. They made him pay.’’

Lester said the problem is not mental, it’s execution. And he made it clear that his frustration is mounting.

“Obviously it’s not what I wanted to do,’’ he said. “Do I want it to be better? Yeah, I wanted to be better yesterday. But I can’t really do anything else. I just have to take the same mind-set that I’ve been taking, the same work ethic that I’ve been doing the last four years, and just go out and pitch. I sat here last year and said I was going to get better eventually. I still believe that.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the month or the time of the year or what. I just have to be better at executing pitches, and I wasn’t able to do that today.’’

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