|Jon Lester allowed only one run and two hits to the Blue Jays in eight innings yesterday in Toronto. He’s 9-2 with a 3.73 ERA. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)|
Lester appreciates support
Runs enable him to attack hitters
TORONTO — It only seemed fitting the Red Sox completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays yesterday by extending their winning streak to a season-high nine games in the same contest Jon Lester became the American League’s first nine-game winner.
While there seemed to be a perfect symmetry between those events, they were not coincidental.
When Lester pitches as well as he’s capable of, the Sox often come out on the winning end.
But when Lester receives the type of run support he did in yesterday’s 14-1 romp, the convergence of lights-out starting pitching and potent offense makes for a lethal combination.
“Guys came out swinging the bats well and it seemed like it took the life out of them a little bit,’’ said Lester, who improved to 9-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.73.
When Lester took the mound at Rogers Centre before a crowd of 30,364, he did so with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Adrian Gonzalez’s home run off Toronto rookie righthander Kyle Drabek. It triggered a 17-hit assault that included 10 extra-base hits (six doubles and four homers).
Dustin Pedroia’s two-run homer and David Ortiz’s three-run shot highlighted a six-run, seven-hit eruption in the fifth that gave the Sox a 9-1 lead.
The big lead helped Lester zero in on the Blue Jays’ lineup.
“When you’ve got a lead like that you can go out and attack,’’ he said. “You don’t have to worry about how many times you’ve thrown a guy a first-pitch fastball.’’
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was impressed with Lester’s command.
“He worked both sides of the plate and we made our pitches and mixed them,’’ he said. “He was throwing strikes and he was pounding the strike zone. That’s what he did: he pounded the strike zone and got ahead of hitters. Even when he didn’t get ahead, he didn’t shy away. We just kept pounding them, working both sides of the plate.
“But when you put that many runs on the board it helps.’’
Lester’s only blemish was a homer he served up to Jose Bautista with two outs in the fourth. Bautista’s 21st homer of the season came after Lester had retired the first 11 batters on 34 pitches.
Lester went on to hold the Jays to one run on two hits while striking out eight and walking one over eight innings.
“He was good today, it was really good to see,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “He threw strikes and he really stayed in his delivery. That was really exciting to see.’’
It resulted in his ninth quality start of the season.
But did it rank as his best?
“Some parts, yes,’’ said Lester, who improved to 6-0 with a 3.12 ERA (20 earned runs over 57 2/3 innings) in nine starts on the road this season. “I’d say fastball command was pretty good today. It’s probably the best changeup I’ve thrown for a while. So there were some parts, yeah, and some parts, no.
“You’re never going to be perfect out there,’’ he said. “Even when guys throw perfect games, they’re not perfect. It’s just nice to go out there and repeat every inning, repeat my mechanics and throw the ball downhill.’’
For the second start in a row, Lester allowed just one walk. It was a vast improvement over his previous five outings, when he allowed 16 walks. When he suffered his second loss of the season, 5-3 vs. the White Sox May 30, Francona suggested Lester had become too reliant on his cutter.
“I just think he got back today to using all his pitches and changing speeds . . . that’s more [like] Lester,’’ Francona said. “In those starts when he wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, he still found a way to keep us ahead. But he was in command of the game, his delivery was nice and smooth and he didn’t overthrow and he wasn’t forcing balls. He used both sides of the plate, so it was really good to see.’’
Of course, it helps when you are spotted a 1-0 lead that rapidly grows to 9-1.
“You’re just attacking, making them put the bat on the ball and trying to get bat contact. We were able to do that,’’ Lester said.
“When you’re able to do that early on, and you’re not pitching out of jams and you’re not having stressful innings like the first inning of my last start, you’re able to get into a rhythm and you’re able to get into a comfort level.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.