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Letdown easy to break down

Little things cost Lester the lead

One walk and eight strikeouts sound great for Jon Lester, but he also gave up six runs on nine hits, including seven singles. One walk and eight strikeouts sound great for Jon Lester, but he also gave up six runs on nine hits, including seven singles. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Pitchers of Jon Lester’s generation have been taught not to dwell on the result. Throw the best pitch you can, sports psychologists have counseled them. What happens after that is out of your control.

“That’s what they tell you,’’ Josh Beckett said in a quiet Red Sox clubhouse after an 8-7 loss to the Indians last night. “But there are some nights when that is hard to remember. The big leagues can frustrate the heck out of you.’’

Lester had one of those games. He dominated the Indians for two innings, striking out four of six batters as the Red Sox took a 5-0 lead. The only question at that point was how many batters he would set down in a row. That’s how good he looked.

“I thought early in the game he was overpowering,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He had a changeup and a curve, he had everything.’’

But over the four innings that followed, Lester allowed six runs on nine hits, seven of them singles. He left trailing, 6-5.

That the Sox came back to take a 7-6 lead before giving up two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning only served to save Lester from taking the loss. It didn’t quell his disappointment.

“We had an early lead, a 5-0 lead. I didn’t get the job done,’’ he said. “It’s kind of a funny game. That’s probably the best I’ve felt all year. Just overthrew some balls, didn’t locate within the zone. They didn’t square a lot of balls up, but I have to do a better job.’’

Lester walked only one and struck out eight. But the hits came in bunches.

The bottom of Cleveland’s anemic order hurt him in the third inning as Anderson Hernandez and Jason Donald reached on singles. Trevor Crowe followed with a double to left field that drove in one run.

A sacrifice fly by Shin-Soo Choo added another run before Austin Kearns dropped an RBI single into left field.

Much the same thing happened in the sixth inning. Lester walked Kearns before singles by Shelley Duncan, Andy Marte, and Lou Marson helped the Indians score three runs and take the lead. None of the balls were particularly well-hit.

“They strung hits together. It wasn’t a lot of hard contact. Sometimes there’s nights like that,’’ Francona said. “You never want to make excuses, that’s a bad way to go about it. But I thought Lester made a lot of good pitches . . . There weren’t a lot of balls hit hard but they found grass.

“I thought he made good pitches all night. That linescore does not indicate how he pitched.’’

Lester struck out Donald to end the sixth and shouted at himself as he walked off the mound. He then flung his glove on the bench in disgust.

Progressive Field has not been kind to Lester in his career. He is 1-0 over four starts, giving up 17 runs and 26 hits over 22 1/3 innings.

“I was throwing strikes but not necessarily where I wanted to throw them,’’ Lester said. “Instead of being on the corners, they drifted over. I gave them too many chances. When I was ahead of guys, I wasn’t burying pitches.’’

Lester came into the game having allowed only nine earned runs and 33 hits over his previous 63 innings. He had a scoreless streak of 13 1/3 innings snapped when the Indians scored those three runs in the third.

Oddly, the Red Sox split the series with their two most erratic starters, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, winning the first two games. Then All-Star candidates Clay Buchholz and Lester allowed nine runs over 13 innings. The Sox are now 10-10 in games against the Indians, Orioles, and Royals.

“Jon looked pretty good,’’ Beckett said. “But sometimes that’s not good enough.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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