Lester not wild about this outing
It was a struggle from start to finish.
From his flawed first inning, in which he allowed two runs on three hits, to his final pitch of the game, Jon Lester had trouble with command, which inflated his pitch count to a season-high 127 in the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss to the White Sox last night before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,463.
“I stunk, there’s no other way to put it,’’ said Lester, who took his second loss of the season (7-2, 3.94 ERA) snapping his streak of eight undefeated starts after surrendering a season-high seven runs on eight hits. “I’ve got to do a better job keeping us in that game. I just flat-out didn’t get it done.’’
The lefthander walked four and struck out four. But his struggles just weren’t limited to that.
He hit Carlos Quentin, the White Sox designated hitter, twice; surrendered a tape-measure home run to Paul Konerko in the third that gave the White Sox a 3-1 lead; and twice loaded the bases, the second time, in the sixth inning, prompting pitching coach Curt Young to make his third mound visit of the game.
Young had barely returned to the dugout when manager Terry Francona emerged after Lester gave up a bases-loaded blooper to Alexei Ramirez down the line in right. Ramirez’s flare turned into a two-run double, sparking a four-run outburst that sent Lester from the game and helped the White Sox snap a three-game losing streak.
“We talk about him not commanding, but if that goes foul, we’re talking about him being the winning pitcher,’’ said Francona, whose team dropped into a first-place tie with the Yankees in the AL East.
Lester tried to extricate himself from the sixth-inning jam by going to the same pitch — his cutter — that he relied upon to get his four strikeouts. After ward, Francona suggested Lester had become too reliant on his cutter.
“I think he’s going to the cutter because he knows when he’s in a bind he knows he can go to it to get out of it,’’ Francona said.
Said Lester, “I had to throw it because it was the only pitch I could get over. I had no command of my fastball. It was the only pitch I had command of.’’
After Lester struck out the game’s first batter, Juan Pierre, Ramirez singled to left, Quentin was hit by a pitch, and Konerko singled to left to load the bases for A.J. Pierzynski. He delivered a ground single up the middle to produce a 2-0 lead.
“He threw all his pitches, but he just had trouble with his command,’’ Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said of Lester. “We were falling behind with everybody and getting everybody in a hitter’s count. The cutter was tough for him tonight. Just getting back into the count, we were struggling with that.
“It’s such a good pitch and normally it’s an out-pitch anyway. But when you’re falling behind, you can’t throw it over the middle. You’ve got to keep mixing it up and battle through it.’’
Adrian Gonzalez got one back for the Sox in the first when he hit his 10th homer of the season, a shot to the visitors’ bullpen in right off Jake Peavy (2-0, 3.24 ERA), his former teammate with the Padres. The homer, which came on a 2-2 offering, gave Gonzalez his major league-leading 46th RBI.
With two out in the third, Konerko tattooed a 2-1 pitch from Lester off a sign above the Monster seats in left, making it 3-1. It was the 11th homer of the season for Konerko and 10th allowed by Lester in 12 outings this season.
The Red Sox rallied for a pair in the third to make it 3-3.
After Saltalamacchia was hit by a pitch, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a double to center that advanced Saltalamacchia to third.
Dustin Pedroia came to the plate hitting .100 (3 for 30) with runners in scoring position and less than two out. He ripped a two-run single to center, giving him 18 RBIs for the season.
Lester needed a strikeout/caught stealing (which Saltalamacchia turned by nailing Brent Lillibridge at third) to get out of the fourth and a warning-track fly to center by Konerko and a fielder’s choice by Pierzynski to get out of the fifth unscathed. But he was knocked out of the game by Chicago’s four-run outburst in the sixth.
After Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham singled, Lester walked Pierre to load the bases for Ramirez.
He responded with his two-run flare, and after Dan Wheeler came on, Quentin made it 7-3 with his two-run single to center, both runs charged to Lester.
“I knew [the flare] wasn’t going to get caught,’’ said Lester, who threw Ramirez a cutter. “That was the only pitch in that at-bat that I didn’t execute.
“I was hoping it would go foul, but when you don’t execute they’re supposed to make you pay and he did.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.