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Offering from Red Sox ace Lester is praise for Halladay

Jon Lester complimented the man he faced on the mound yesterday . . . Jon Lester complimented the man he faced on the mound yesterday . . . (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 22, 2011

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — There were hundreds of fans gathered at the gates of Bright House Field three hours before the first pitch of yesterday’s game between the Red Sox and Phillies. Others gathered by the ticket windows, hoping for standing-room tickets.

Scalpers were at every intersection on North Old Coachman Road, asking passing drivers if they had any extra tickets for sale. One entrepreneurial fellow — “Don’t use my name,’’ he asked — said good seats were going for $100.

Imagine if the game actually had counted.

It’s not every day in spring training when the two teams favored to advance to the World Series meet and have their aces on the mound. Jon Lester was good, but Roy Halladay was better as the Phillies beat the Red Sox, 4-1.

The game drew a crowd of 10,912, a record in the eight-year history of the stadium if only three more than the Yankees drew on Sunday.

Halladay gave the people what they came to see, allowing one run on five hits over 7 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out six. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner has allowed one earned run in 18 2/3 innings this spring.

“It is fun to watch him pitch,’’ Lester said. “It’s always been fun watching him just go through a lineup. He does it every time he goes out there. You would think he runs out of ways to get you out, but he somehow manages to keep doing it and it’s impressive. It makes him one of, if not the, elite guy right now.’’

Lester is on the cusp of that distinction. Facing Philadelphia’s regular lineup, the lefthander sailed though the first five innings having allowed one unearned run on one hit while throwing only 70 pitches.

But after getting one out in the sixth inning, Lester walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches. Two singles, a walk, and two more singles followed as the Phillies scored three runs.

Only Ryan Howard hit the ball solidly in that sequence. But Lester was done for the day.

“I didn’t really have command of anything. It wasn’t one way or another,’’ Lester said. “I came out of my delivery a little bit. I wasn’t able to get ahead to go to the breaking ball or go to the offspeed stuff to get them off the fastball. When you’re able to keep in your delivery and throw the ball downhill, that’s when you get the good results.’’

Lester is preparing for his Opening Day start against the Rangers in Texas April 1. In that sense, yesterday was a success as he threw 98 pitches (56 for strikes) and emerged healthy.

He will have a shorter tuneup start against Baltimore Sunday in Sarasota.

“Everything is fine health-wise, when you look back on it, that’s the main thing,’’ he said. “Getting the pitch count up is the most important thing and getting ready for the season.’’

Lester has allowed six earned runs on 13 hits and six walks over his last 10 innings. He is not concerned.

“I’ve walked plenty of guys before. It’s not a big deal,’’ he said. “Obviously it’s not something I want to do. It’s something I’m trying to work on.’’

The Red Sox have seven games left in Florida then play an exhibition game in Houston March 30. Over those nine days, manager Terry Francona will press the gas pedal a little harder.

“We’ll start trying playing guys a little bit longer or more consistently,’’ he said. “One day we might have guys go long or play maybe two or three in a row. I don’t think you have to play nine [innings] in spring training to be ready for a season. It just doesn’t translate. But we will get a lot of back-to-backs [with] four at-bats.

“We try and check with them. That’s the whole idea, to get guys feeling good about themselves as we leave. There’s no magic formula. We don’t have to push these guys. There’s good about wanting to be ready.’’

The Sox have their 13 position players and five-man rotation set. The only slots undecided are in the bullpen. But at this point, on-field performance will have little bearing in who stays and who goes.

“When we make our decisions, I just think if you’re looking at the last week of spring training, you’re setting yourself up to make mistakes,’’ Francona said. “Even with our bullpen, if somebody goes out and throws a killer inning, that doesn’t mean they’re going to make the team. We just need to set our team up where we think we’re best.’’

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

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