Lester lifts Sox
Stellar pitching corrals Rangers
ARLINGTON, Texas — When Jon Lester is pitching the way he was last night — his command on, his tempo on, his pitches finding that perfect balance of velocity, movement and location — it seems that there is no one who can touch him. He can leave frustration in the path of his fastball, and send batters walking slowly back to their dugout with another out in the box score.
Lester picked up the pieces from Josh Beckett’s debacle the night before, containing the dangerous bats of the Rangers over eight innings. Even with the searing conditions — it was 102 degrees at gametime, the second-hottest night in Rangers Ballpark history — Lester managed to get better as the game went on, allowing just one hit to the final 16 batters as the Sox took a 3-1 win.
And it was even more impressive, given that Lester wasn’t exactly feeling his best. It wasn’t quite to the point of the intestinal turmoil that Daisuke Matsuzaka suffered three years ago in Texas, but it wasn’t a whole lot of fun for the starter.
“We needed him to go out there and pitch exactly like he did,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I think the heat got to him a little bit. He was queasy and kind of sick to his stomach. We were certainly keeping an eye on him, ’cause he wasn’t feeling good. Didn’t look like it the way he was pitching.’’
Having allowed just five hits and not a single walk or run, Lester picked up his much-deserved 13th win the day after a Friday the 13th, bringing the Sox only good things once the first pitch was thrown. That included a victory over Colby Lewis and the Rangers on a night on which a win was simply playing defense in the American League East and wild-card races.
“We needed this game,’’ second baseman Bill Hall said. “We need today’s game and the next game and every game for the rest of the year. Obviously they’re all important, but today after last night, which we feel was a disappointing loss, we needed to win today. “We’ve done it all year, kept ourselves in contention, and we’re looking to get past just contention. We’re looking to win this thing.’’
There would be no chance to gain a game on anyone, with the Rays winning early and the Yankees winning later. Instead, the Sox would have to beat the Rangers simply to avoid slipping even farther out of the race.
There was one rather tense moment for the Sox, when it was still a one-run game, but Lester made it out unscathed. One night after J.D. Drew lost a ball in the lights, he had difficulty corralling a triple by Nelson Cruz last night in the seventh. The ball bounced off the wall near the foul pole, then scooted by Drew’s glove, allowing Cruz to reach third with just one out.
But Lester got David Murphy to ground out to first base and Jorge Cantu to bounce out to second. The inning was over, the lead was intact.
“I’m just trying to execute pitches,’’ Lester said. “I did that to Murphy, and fortunately he rolled it over to Mikey Lowell. I’m just one pitch away after that. I did do a good job of that tonight, of taking it one pitch at a time and not getting ahead of myself.
“That was obviously big for us, getting out of that inning.’’
That enabled the Sox to breathe a little easier, especially without Daniel Bard or Jonathan Papelbon available to turn to in the ninth.
“That was important for us,’’ Francona said, of Lester’s ability to get through the eighth. In fact, in that inning, the manager told his starter to give him a look if he didn’t feel like he could continue. Francona wasn’t going to take Lester out unless he was too sick to pitch.
“I had no idea he was sick,’’ catcher Victor Martinez said. “That tells you what kind of game he pitched. He never gave into them all night. He was always getting ahead.’’
They could breathe even more easily after the Sox had broken the second-longest scoreless streak by a pitcher in Rangers history (26 1/3 innings), getting a double and two singles to begin the ninth against Darren O’Day. They scored two insurance runs in the inning, helped by a bunt that went for a single by Eric Patterson and a dropped sacrifice fly off the bat of Marco Scutaro.
That allowed room for Scott Atchison and Felix Doubront to finish the ninth, even though Josh Hamilton tagged Atchison for a solo homer.
They were in that position because of Lester, who was working everything he had. As Francona said, he had, “All four pitches. Against that lineup in this ballpark you have to. You can’t stay on one side of the plate, or stay one speed, or they’ll make you pay.’’
Said Doubront, who earned his first career save, “Pretty good. That’s my hero.’’
Lester credited his outing to throwing his fastball to both sides of the plate, a better cutter than he’s possessed in some time, his offspeed pitches. It was more than enough, as Lester seems to be headed for a good stretch with two consecutive wins after enduring four straight losses.
It wasn’t easy, of course.
Against Lester’s teammates, Lewis wasn’t giving up much either. He did, however, yield a run in the fifth, when Ryan Kalish led off with a single and eventually came around to score with two out. After his single, neither Hall nor Patterson could do any damage, but Scutaro and Drew did.
Scutaro hit an infield single to push Kalish to third, and Drew added another to drive him in.