Red Sox continue to put it together
More often than not, Jon Lester wore an annoyed expression as he stood on the mound at Fenway Park yesterday.
The Red Sox lefthander fell behind in the count to 14 of the 25 Blue Jays he faced. Three drew walks and Lester went to three-ball counts on seven others. Only once did he retire the side in order.
“A grind,’’ said Lester, who frequently took brief strolls to the back of the mound to compose himself.
That the Sox won the game, 8-1, and Lester earned his first victory of the season speaks to how well he has learned the art of maneuvering through those days when he’s not overpowering.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere for the 4-10 Sox, who slowly have started to shed the stigma of their horrid start. That’s two wins in a row, both of them well-played games.
“When you get off to a rough start, everybody presses a little bit. I think we’re starting to relax more and let the game come to us,’’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “We’re absolutely playing better.’’
It started yesterday with Lester, who pitched into the seventh inning despite faulty command and allowed only one run on six hits.
“I made some good pitches when I had to. Today wasn’t the best control day I ever had,’’ said Lester, who is 1-1. “Battled a few things out there with myself. Almost feeling a little too good at times and then kind of going back to not feeling so good. But it was a good win.’’
April has been Lester’s worst month over his career. But he has a 3.20 earned run average in four starts this season. In his last three, he has allowed four earned runs over 20 innings with 22 strikeouts.
“Nothing’s changed,’’ he said. “I didn’t invent a new pitch this year and guys are swinging at it. It’s the same stuff. It’s just executing when I have to.’’
One of those moments came in the second. After Aaron Hill walked and J.P. Arencibia singled, Lester got lefthanded-hitting Travis Snider to ground to shortstop Jed Lowrie for an easy double play. The Jays ended up scoring one run in the inning, but it could have been worse.
“[Snider] is pretty aggressive left on left. He’s going to try and make something happen early, especially with a runner in scoring position,’’ Lester said. “I was able to get a fastball down and away that he actually hit pretty well to Jed. Jed did a good job of turning it and somewhat getting out of that jam.’’
With the Sox ahead, 4-1, in the third inning, Lester walked No. 9 hitter Jayson Nix then got Yunel Escobar to ground into another double play.
“[Lester] had the ability to throw that ground ball a lot. I don’t think he commanded like he can, but he’s got all his pitches,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He always has somewhere to go. Changeup, breaking ball, two-seamer down or cutter.
“At times, it was a little hard, but he’s got a lot of ways to get you out.’’
Toronto starter Jesse Litsch (1-1) retired 13 in a row at one point. But unlike Lester, he gave up the big inning.
Lowrie, who is hitting .462, lofted a fly ball down the left-field line with one out in the second that looked headed for the seats before it blew back and landed at the feet of a lackadaisical Juan Rivera. Lowrie also watched the ball instead of running and settled for a single.
Singles by J.D. Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored a run. With Toronto playing him to bunt, Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a home run deep into the seats in right field. It was the first three-run homer of the season for the Sox.
“I think we’ve played better than sometimes what our record shows. There have been games when we’ve gone out and got our butts kicked. We just couldn’t get over that hump or that one big inning. The home run Jacoby hit let everybody relax,’’ Lester said.
Saltalamacchia, who entered the game hitting .138 with two RBIs, had a two-run single in the sixth inning. That put the Sox ahead, 6-1.
“It spread the game out. That’s exactly what we wanted to do,’’ Francona said.
The Sox scored two more in the eighth, loading the bases against Shawn Camp before Lowrie hit a ball down the first base line that Adam Lind misplayed. That allowed Francona to keep Jonathan Papelbon on the bullpen bench. Daniel Bard, Felix Doubront, Bobby Jenks, and Dan Wheeler held the Blue Jays to one hit over the final three innings.
Now the Sox have a chance to win the four-game series this morning before embarking on a nine-game road trip. A word of caution for the optimistic: Daisuke Matsuzaka will drag a 12.86 ERA to the mound for the 11 a.m. game.
But maybe the Sox have found the right path.
“We’re getting there,’’ Lowrie said. “There were some rough moments the last two weeks but this group is learning how to win together.’’