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It was a grind for Lester

From the start, Sox starter made to work

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 2, 2011

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The first inning was as torturous for Jon Lester as it was interminable.

It took the Red Sox lefthander 43 pitches to extract himself after allowing three consecutive hits, including an RBI double to left by Robinson Cano, to spot the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

Initially, it was reported Lester had thrown 44 pitches, but it was later corrected to 43. It still wound up being a career high for an inning.

It did little to speed the 4-hour-21-minute game along.

“People wonder why we play four-hour games with the Yankees,’’ said Lester, who got a no-decision after going five innings (114 pitches) and allowing one run on seven hits and three walks while striking out six.

“It’s right there in front of you,’’ he said. “Every at-bat is a grind and there’s some days where, yeah, you make it look easier than others, but it’s a grind every time they step in the box. It goes the same for us. There’s a reason why our offenses are so good. They see a lot of pitches and they make the pitchers work.’’

The Yankees laid the groundwork for last night’s victory, which enabled them to pull within a half-game of the Sox in the American League East, by grinding every at-bat against Lester in the first inning.

After striking out leadoff hitter Derek Jeter on six pitches, Lester gave up back-to-back singles to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, before Robinson Cano struck for a double that gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

Lester did not subscribe to the notion that his command had anything to do with his protracted first inning.

“It wasn’t like I was throwing balls all over the place,’’ he said. “Gave up a single to Granderson and a single to Teixeira that barely winds up falling [in center field]. The ball to Cano was location, but for the most part I thought I threw the ball pretty well.’’

But when it comes to having to face the Yankees, Lester said, “It’s a lot a foul balls, a lot of long at-bats, and that’s what you get with these guys.’’

That much was evident when Nick Swisher came to the plate with one out and two men aboard and proceeded to put the screws to Lester, by making him grind for a 10-pitch strikeout. Swisher fell behind on the count early at 1 and 2, then fouled off four consecutive pitches before Lester threw two balls that made the count 3 and 2. Swisher kept alive his at-bat with another foul ball before he struck out swinging at a 92-mile-per-hour cutter.

Andruw Jones then came up and drew a walk on nine pitches, hitting five foul balls, to load the bases for rookie Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ top catching prospect who was called up yesterday from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Lester got out of the jam, mercifully, when he struck out Montero on six pitches.

In all, Lester threw 26 of the 43 pitches for strikes, including 14 that were fouled off.

By then, it was evident, Lester was not likely to go deep into the game, and that all hands in the Red Sox bullpen had to be on deck.

“I mean, [43] pitches in one inning isn’t broken down to one at-bat,’’ Lester said. “Ten pitches to Swisher and nine pitches to Andruw Jones, I mean, it’s all the same. Just a lot of foul balls and with a team like that, it’s what you get.

“You don’t have a lot of games where you get a lot of 0-0 contact, 0-and-1 contact, 1-and-0 contact that goes in your favor,’’ he said. “That’s what makes them, and that’s what makes us, so tough. We foul off a lot of good pitches, and that’s what they did and made me work.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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