Lester’s performance is simply unbeatable
BALTIMORE — Perhaps it’s the crab cakes at Faidley Seafood. Maybe it’s all the sights and sounds the Inner Harbor has to offer.
Or maybe it’s just that pitching at Camden Yards brings out the best in Jon Lester.
“I love this park, it’s one of my favorites just to come to, it’s real nice,’’ Lester said. “Obviously, I look forward to it every time I come here to play. Good mound, real close to the plate. So it just kind of fits me a little bit. It’s just one of those deals.’’
Whatever the reason, Lester extended his perfect record against the Orioles to 14-0 (2.33 ERA) after last night’s 6-2 victory before 21,209. It enabled the 11-13 Sox to conclude their 10-day trip at 6-3 before beginning an 11-game homestand tonight against the Mariners.
Lester, who owns the longest active winning streak by a pitcher against any team, not only remained undefeated against the Birds but improved his season record to 3-1 (2.53 ERA). The lefthander used a good mix of pitches, but relied upon a changeup that held the Orioles to two runs on four hits over eight innings.
“I think we threw a lot more changeups than we normally do and they kept swinging at it, so we kept going to it,’’ said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “We got ahead and stayed ahead and we were finally able to get to eight innings.’’
Lester, who threw 108 pitches (64 for strikes), recorded five strikeouts and had three walks. He allowed a home run in the sixth when he threw a cutter in to Vladimir Guerrero, who tied the score, 2-2. The Sox manufactured the go-ahead run in the seventh on Dustin Pedroia’s nubber to third that pushed across Carl Crawford, who reached on a leadoff double against righthander Jim Johnson, who absorbed the loss in relief of Brad Bergesen.
“It’s what you need some times,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who was taken out of the game after the eighth as a precaution after he jammed his left hip on a first-inning slide into second. “I mean, we hit the ball hard the other night and we didn’t have anything to show for it. Pedey’s hit was huge. That little nubber for a hit was awesome.’’
A three-run outburst in the eighth on three singles to center enabled the Sox to put it away and allowed Lester to hand it over to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth.
Lester was supported by a 13-hit attack led by Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury, who each went 3 for 5 with 2 RBIs.
“He was incredible,’’ Gonzalez said of Lester. “From my perspective, his command was not quite there, but he still goes out there and gives us eight innings and two runs. He’s definitely a Top 5 pitcher in the league.’’
It mattered little that Lester squandered leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Given his track record against the Orioles, the Sox were confident Lester was capable of overcoming those miscues.
“I thought he threw his changeup about as good as he’s ever thrown it,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “Against some of those hitters, he really slowed them down with that changeup . . . He was really good, and he needed to be [good] because we had chances to spread it out and didn’t. But he pitched so well it gave us time where we finally did.’’
After Lester retired the Orioles in 1-2-3 fashion in the seventh, Michael Gonzalez relieved Johnson after Johnson issued a leadoff walk to Youkilis.
Gonzalez loaded the bases when David Ortiz (2 for 5) singled to right and pinch hitter Mike Cameron walked, setting the table for Saltalamacchia, who came up in the sixth with the bases loaded but hit an inning-ending deep fly to left center.
This time, Saltalamacchia delivered, stroking a single to center that scored Youkilis to make it 4-2.
“I felt good at the plate and I fouled some good pitches off,’’ said Saltalamacchia, who went 1 for 4. “He threw another good pitch up and in and I still got on top of it.’’
It left the bases loaded for Crawford who wound up striking out. Jason Berken came in for Gonzalez and got Scutaro to pop to second.
But Berken failed to get out the jam unscathed when Ellsbury hit a soft fly to center that dropped in and scored Ortiz from third and Cameron from second for a 6-2 lead.
So what is it about this this team that brings out the best in Lester?
“I don’t know,’’ he said. “If I had that answer, it’d be that way against every team.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.