Lester’s outing deep-sixed
Fine start falls apart with one bad inning
As far as Jon Lester was concerned, there was no use mincing words. No reason to sugarcoat it.
When it came to the difference between his first five innings and his last - an ugly three-run sixth - Lester relied on nothing but straight talk to explain last night’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees before a Fenway Park crowd of 38,006.
“Just really lost command,’’ said Lester, after the lefthander (11-5, 3.23 ERA) gave up three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out seven batters as the Red Sox fell a game behind the Yankees in the American League East.
“You got to tip your hat to ’em, they did a real good job of being patient that inning,’’ Lester said of his unraveling in the sixth. “Threw some pretty good pitches that they laid off. Whether it was a ball or a strike, they stayed within themselves.
“Seemed like the first five innings we dictated both sides of the plate,’’ he said. “And in that sixth inning, they did.’’
Through the first five innings, Lester was his usual efficient self.
“At that point, he was just throwing a lot of strikes and pitching the way he pitches - cutter, fastball,’’ said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He used all his pitches against a really good lineup, a lineup that comes in feeling really good about themselves, and he was fine.’’
There was no great mystery when it came to Lester’s early success against the Yankees.
“Just executed. That’s it,’’ he said. “Kept the ball down, was able to get some curveballs in there for strikes, and get some swing-and-misses down below the zone with it.’’
Lester scattered a pair of hits and allowed just one baserunner (Nick Swisher) to reach second. He recorded all seven of his strikeouts in the first five frames, including two apiece against Home Run Derby champion Robinson Cano (0 for 4) and designated hitter Jorge Posada (0 for 3).
Then came the sixth. “It just kind of unraveled for me,’’ Lester said after letting Eduardo Nunez to wriggle free from a 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk on an 87 mile-per-hour cutter. The base on balls was issued on Lester’s ninth pitch to Nunez.
Derek Jeter followed with a single to center. Curtis Granderson then drilled an RBI single to left that sailed just over shortstop Marco Scutaro.
“Leadoff walks are going to kill you, but that wasn’t the one,’’ Lester said. “The three others add on to pitches, add on to an inning. That one obviously hurts, but at the same time you can’t give these guys, especially this team, three baserunners.’’
Lester walked Mark Teixeira after a 93-m.p.h. fastball just missed on the 3-1 delivery. That loaded the bases for the dangerous Cano, who wound up hitting into a 4-6-3 double play that wiped out Teixeira at second, but allowed Jeter to score the tying run from third, making it 2-2.
Swisher came to the plate with Granderson standing on third with the go-ahead run. He fouled off a cutter, took a changeup for a ball and turned on a cutter for a run-scoring ground-rule double down the left-field line that proved decisive.
“Yeah, it was a pitch I wanted to throw,’’ Lester said of his 1-and-1 offering to Swisher. “I liked the location it was in and he did a good job of keeping it fair. It was just a good inning.’’
For the Yankees, of course.
For the Red Sox? It led to ruin last night.
“I’ve got to do a better job of minimizing the damage,’’ Lester said. “If we get out of there with just those two runs, and Swisher doesn’t hit that double for the third run, maybe it’s a different story.
“But I’ve got to do a better job - once we get two outs - of buckling down and getting that third out.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.