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Dan Shaughnessy

Nail-biting win is good for business

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 10, 2010

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NEW YORK — The finale was better than the first three games. It was an epic August matinee on a sultry Monday afternoon in the new/old ballpark on 161st Street. The Red Sox and Yankees stared at one another for 3 hours and 33 minutes before the Bronx Bombers finally blinked as Mark Teixeira swung and missed at a 2-and-2 Jonathan Papelbon splitter with the tying run on second base.

It was an afternoon of missed opportunities by both teams, an afternoon in which Papelbon and Daniel Bard struck out some great hitters with a lot of men in scoring position. It was an afternoon in which the Red Sox’ 2-1 victory enabled them to salvage a split in New York. No matter what happens from here, it will go down as one of the memorable games of this strange season.

“You saw two good teams going at it,’’ said excited Sox skipper Terry Francona. “That was good baseball.’’

It was also an afternoon in which we saw Jon Lester’s first victory in one full month. The Sox stopper was 0-4 since pitching an inning at the All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. This represented a significant drought for the guy who is supposed to be Boston’s best pitcher.

Lester was on his game yesterday. He smothered the Yanks for 6 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and three walks and striking out six before handing the ball to rocketman Bard.

If you want to talk about laser shows, talk about Bard. When the media assembled in the Sox clubhouse after the game, Bard got most of the attention.

“If something bad is going to happen, you want to be out there yourself, but I’m happy to give the ball to those guys [Bard and Papelbon],’’ said Lester.

Fortunately for the Sox, Lester succeeded where John Lackey and Josh Beckett failed Saturday and Sunday.

“For the first six innings he was lights-out,’’ said Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

“Tremendous,’’ said Francona. “Early on, his strike/ball ratio was even, which was interesting. It says a lot about his stuff. He pitched well with men on base. He made pitches down and had movement. He was great.’’

“This was a huge win for us,’’ said Lester (12-7, 2.94 ERA). “Hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction.’’

The struggling Sox are still alive and they have a chance to make the playoffs on the strength of their starting pitchers. Boston’s quintet of Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is better than any other rotation in the American League.

“I don’t think it’s just about the starting pitchers,’’ said Lester. “It’s the whole team. Obviously you can’t be giving up four or five runs a start. If we keep our team in the game, we’ll score runs and win games. It sounds simple, but that’s really it. We just have to keep chipping away.’’

Starting pitching can make up for an offense that scored only six runs over the final three games in Yankee Stadium. It can make up for the devastation of the disabled list. It can make up for a bullpen populated by people Francona cannot trust in any close game (At this hour, it’s pretty much “Bard and Papelbon, and pray for rain’’).

Lester needed a win. He’d lost four consecutive starts, giving up 13 earned runs and 31 hits over 26 2/3 innings. This stretch included a fateful night at Safeco Field in his native Washington when he had the best stuff of his life (yes, even better than in his no-hit game), but suffered a 5-1 loss after taking a perfect game bid into the sixth inning.

There was something else to consider. On the last weekend of July, after a disastrous start against Cleveland at Fenway, Lester’s wife, Farrah, gave birth to their first child, a boy named Hudson. It can’t be easy being a 26-year-old first-time dad, traveling around the country while your wife is home with a newborn. But this is the life they choose and it is a good life, and now Lester has a game ball for his baby boy.

“I wasn’t worried about the last four starts,’’ he said, quietly. “I was worried about executing pitches on the day I get to pitch. I know what these past three games [at Yankee Stadium] were like and I wanted to give our team a quality start. I was worried about today, not three weeks ago. When you start worrying about your last outing, you get in trouble.’’

A couple of New York writers arrived from the Yankees clubhouse as Lester was delivering his closing remarks. They asked what it was like to watch Bard, and Lester told them he’d already answered the question. He was ready to get on the bus to get to the airport to get to Toronto. He was ready to move on with this strange, strange season.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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