Lester, Red Sox still not in a giving mood
BALTIMORE — As Jon Lester walked off the mound in the seventh inning last night, there was frustration, and there was a mess. He had gone from being in command to having no command, as exhaustion got the better of him on a hot night.
The Red Sox lefthander, so effective over the first six innings, had just walked three straight batters to load the bases with one out in a 1-0 game.
There was no choice for manager Terry Francona, who later lamented perhaps leaving Lester out there one batter too many. Daniel Bard was summoned, and six pitches later the Sox were out of the inning.
“I like it,’’ Bard said of being faced with such a jam. “I think some guys kind of thrive in that situation. For me, it’s a win-win situation. Come in and bail them out like that, or give up a knock. Hate to say it, but you’re not necessarily expected to come out with no runs. It’s now a bonus when you do. So I don’t mind being thrown in that situation.’’
Bard didn’t look as if he minded, especially after it was over. The fourth pitch to pinch hitter Luke Scott resulted in a shallow fly to center field. There was no chance for Adam Jones to tag up and score from third. The sixth pitch, this one to Corey Patterson, was popped into foul territory. Kevin Youkilis came down the third base line to catch it, the inning was over, and the Sox were on their way to an 8-2 win over the Orioles.
“I think it kind of drains the hope out of them,’’ Bard said of getting out of the seventh unscathed.
The Orioles had their chance, and couldn’t take advantage of it. That was because of Bard, and because of a changeup that has become an increasingly effective weapon for the reliever.
“I just think it’s maturity, too,’’ said Francona. “His stuff is good. He’s confident. He should be. He’s gone through the league. Now he knows what he’s doing. He knows his role. It’s a huge advantage for us.’’
Not only did the victory set up the Sox for a potential sweep this afternoon, it kept them tied with the Blue Jays for third in the ever-intense American League East race, 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Rays.
But the Sox couldn’t have gotten there without an impressive effort from Lester.
“Tremendous,’’ Francona said. “Going into his last inning of work, he’s not given up any runs. I thought I went one hitter too far with him. It looked like he kind of hit a wall. He looked like he was gassed. Fortunately for us, [Bard] came in and got the short fly ball to center and the popup, kept it right where it was.’’
It was what the Sox needed, especially with Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie pitching almost as effectively as Lester. Through six innings, only two base runners — Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in the first inning; Baltimore’s Jones in the fifth — had made it as far as third.
But the lack of scoring ended on the first pitch of the seventh from Guthrie. While Marco Scutaro had hit a shot inches foul to left field in the sixth, prompting the first video review of the season at Camden Yards, there was no doubting Youkilis’s 378-foot home run. The Sox led by a single run, and Lester finally had some support.
The lead held through the seventh, and was finally expanded in the eighth. Josh Reddick, who had hit .191 in Pawtucket before being called up before the game, had said he hoped to provide a spark. He did just that, leading off the inning with a triple, and scoring on Scutaro’s single, giving the Sox a two-run cushion.
“It was kind of a big at-bat in a big spot in a one-run ballgame,’’ said Reddick, who was robbed of extra bases in the fifth by Patterson in left. “Just trying to get a pitch to hit, luckily I did. Came through.
“Trying to take it down a notch in the effort level. Effort level’s been a big thing for me. Just trying to take nice, easy swings and the ball will travel for me.’’
The Sox erupted for six more runs in the ninth, sending 11 men to the plate as they battered a trio of relievers. But they only got to that point because of Lester and Bard.
“I felt good early on, got in a rhythm, threw strikes,’’ said Lester, who has won seven straight decisions and has allowed just one earned run in his last three starts (19 1/3 innings). “They made some bad contact. Seventh inning, I don’t know if it’s the heat or a lot of pitches or what, just kind of caught up to me a little bit. Bullpen did a good job of bailing me out right there. That’s a big inning for us. Obviously, we come out and score a couple runs the next inning, but that’s a huge inning for us.’’
And Bard made it happen, as the reliever continues to mature, proving his readiness to handle such situations.
“He’s becoming more complete, but I still think that he’ll continue to get better,’’ catcher Jason Varitek said. “And he’s pretty good where he’s at.’’