Lester and Red Sox come up aces
Offensive resurgence continues vs. Angels
The Red Sox faced Felix Hernandez on Sunday, Jered Weaver on Monday and Dan Haren last night. The three are among the elite starters in the American League.
“They’re some of the best pitchers in baseball and they’re hot,’’ Sox manager Terry Francona said. “It’s a tough chore.’’
That the Sox found a way to win all three games is a testament to how far the offense has come after a painfully slow start of the season.
Haren was tough but the Sox ultimately proved tougher as they beat the Los Angeles Angels, 7-3, before a crowd of 37,043 at Fenway Park.
That’s 12 wins in the last 17 games. Now 14-15, the Sox can get to .500 for the first time tonight with Josh Beckett on the mound.
“We’ve all sat down in that clubhouse and said we’re better than what we’re playing,’’ said Jon Lester, who allowed one run over seven innings. “These past three games, I think we’ve done a really good job of not only taking advantage of situations when we need to and having good quality at-bats and also the pitching side of it, grinding out innings.’’
If these last few weeks prove to be a turning point, thank the Angels. The Sox are 6-0 against Los Angeles this season and 15-1 over the last two.
Haren (4-2) has lost two of those games. Of the 10 earned runs he has given up over 51 innings, six have come against the Red Sox. He allowed nine hits last night and struck out eight without a walk.
The Sox were 2 for 18 their first two times around the order dazzled by a split-finger fastball that seemed to disappear as it reached the plate.
But the third time around was much different.
Jacoby Ellsbury doubled to left field in the sixth, putting Haren out of the stretch. He struck out Dustin Pedroia for the second out but Adrian Gonzalez grounded a changeup into left field.
Ellsbury, who left Monday’s game with a bruised knee, beat a good throw to the plate from Vernon Wells.
David Ortiz followed with a single to right field that pushed Gonzalez to third. Jed Lowrie broke his bat swinging at a cutter from Haren but got enough of the ball to ground it into right field and score Gonzalez. That gave the Sox a 2-1 lead.
The lead grew to 3-1 in the seventh inning. Carl Crawford (2 for 3 with a walk) singled with one out and scored on a double off the wall in center by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Crawford got a bad jump, waiting to see if the ball would be caught. But he shifted into high gear quickly and beat the relay throw to the plate.
The Sox were 6 of 9 the third time around against Haren, scoring three runs.
“Our offense did a great job grinding at-bats and waiting for that one opportunity to strike and they took advantage of it,’’ Lester said.
Up, 3-1, the Sox scored four runs in the eighth inning. Gonzalez started it with a home run to right field, his second of the season after a drought of 96 at-bats and his first at Fenway.
Lefthander Hisanori Takahashi came out of the bullpen and was hammered. Ortiz snuck a home run around the Pesky Pole, his fourth of the season. Jed Lowrie singled before Marco Scutaro drove a pitch just over the Wall. It was reviewed by the umpires and ruled a home run, his first of the season.
Scutaro was a late addition to the lineup when Kevin Youkilis became ill. He was 2 for 4.
Lester scattered six hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. The lefty is 4-1 with a 2.33 earned run average after seven starts, impressive for a pitcher who has traditionally been a slow starter.
“It’s really encouraging because the last couple of years April’s been so tough for him. Once he seems to find it, he doesn’t lose it. I think that’s really good news,’’ Francona said.
The game changed for Lester in the fourth inning. Trailing, 1-0, he allowed a single by Torii Hunter before Wells drew a walk. Erick Aybar followed with a line drive to second base.
Dustin Pedroia speared the ball and made like a quarterback, leading Gonzalez back to first base with a throw to complete the double play as Wells was off the bag. Lester struck out Trumbo this time to end the inning.
“That was huge,’’ Francona said of the double play. “That’s a great play. Even when Pedey doesn’t get hits, it seems like we end up talking about him every night.’’
Said Lester: “It takes a lot of pressure off of me. As soon as that ball went up, I thought it was a base hit because we were kind of expecting a bunt there. But Pedey did a good job of getting there and Gonzo did a great job of getting back to the base.’’
Without a save at stake, Jonathan Papelbon allowed two runs in the ninth.
Ortiz acknowledged it doesn’t make sense for the Red Sox to play some of their best ball of the season against pitchers like Hernandez, Weaver, and Haren.
“But you know what, maybe it was good for us,’’ he said. “You know you have to be at your best or you’re going to get your [butt] kicked. I think we showed ourselves something.’’