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Once again, trouble showed up early

By Alex Prewitt
Globe Correspondent / July 9, 2012
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For all the Saturday night fireworks, the sparks provided by minor league mainstays Pedro Ciriaco and Mauro Gomez that could have lit a path toward a series split against the Yankees, the Red Sox were undone in the first inning.

Again.

In four games this weekend, Boston starters gave up the following number of runs before their teammates strode to the plate: 5, 4, 3, and 2. With Jon Lester on the mound, the Sox found themselves buried in another early hole Sunday night, leading to a 7-3 loss and a drop back to .500 at 43-43.

“It’s tough to be behind, that’s for sure,” manager Bobby Valentine said after a long pause when asked about his team’s early struggles. “Well, we got better, but we were looking for no runs in that first inning. What can I tell you?”

Things were looking up for Lester after a nine-strikeout outing last Tuesday at Oakland, by far the lefty’s best performance since mid-May. But he ran into a buzzsaw at the top of the Yankees lineup, just like his peers this series. Derek Jeter singled to right. Curtis Granderson singled to left. Mark Teixeira hit a two-run double down the left-field line.

“Jeter had a good at-bat, fouled off some pitches, battled, hit one into right. Granderson got a base hit to left nicely, and ball takes a bad hop over the glove of Gomez,” Valentine said. “Before you know it, it’s 2-0, and we’re battling an uphill fight again.”

Lester appeared on the precipice of rebounding. He got two weak popouts to Gomez (who shifted to first base) in the third, then struck out the side in the fourth, including Jeter and Granderson. But he didn’t make it through the next inning, having thrown 101 pitches in his shortest outing since May 25. He exited after an Andruw Jones RBI single, left to suffer a slow walk to the dugout and sporadic jeers from the Fenway crowd.

“Jon had another uphill battle,” Valentine said. “I thought he was throwing the ball well, just before you know it, you look up there, there’s a lot of hits on the board, and runs, base runners, and pitches. That’s not what he wanted, I’m sure.

“That’s not what we needed.”

With all the ailments plaguing the Sox staff, one gem this series would have done wonders in alleviating the stress on a patchwork lineup. Instead, Boston found itself fighting from behind in every game. Josh Beckett, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, and Lester all fell early and hard.

“Obviously not good,” Lester said. “Got to get deeper into games somehow. Too many pitches, too many foul balls, too many deep counts, kept giving them an opportunity to get back into counts, and with a good team like that, you can’t do that.”

Doubront pitched well enough Saturday night to allow Ciriaco and Gomez to swing their way to Boston’s first win against New York this season. But nothing could salvage another flat first inning Sunday, which once again set the tone and left the Sox searching for more answers that seem just out of their grasp.

“I can only speak for myself, uncharted water for me,” said Lester, who heads into the All-Star break at 5-6 with a 4.49 ERA. “Just got to keep grinding it out, can’t give up. I’ve just got to keep working. That’s all I can control, showing up every day working hard, think things are going to turn around.”

Any change, the Sox now know, starts with the first inning.

Alex Prewitt can be reached at APrewitt@globe.com.

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