Their confidence brimming after Jon Lester's complete-game effort in a 6-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners Monday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox will now turn their wary eyes toward Josh Beckett.
It will be up to Beckett, the recalcitrant righthander who after absorbing an 8-3 loss against the Indians in his most recent outing managed to cast himself as the most reviled sports figure in Boston for his unapologetic stance on his off-day golf outing, to make it five in a row for the Red Sox in Tuesday's game against the Mariners.
Coincidentally, it will coincide with a pregame ceremony recognizing Tim Wakefield, the recently retired knuckleballer who ranks as the one of the most beloved Boston hurlers in team history.
"I think when you watch the other guys, as a staff, weíre pretty prideful in what we try to do,íí said Lester, who didn't allow a hit against the Mariners until Ichiro Suzuki's two-out single in the fourth.
Lester wound up holding the Mariners scoreless through eight innings, and didn't allow a ball out of the infield until a flyout to right for the second out in the fifth inning. Suzuki spoiled Lester's bid for his third career shutout in the ninth inning when he led off with a single, went to third on Justin Smoak's double, and scored on Kyle Seager's ground out to second.
The offense provided ample support, scoring two runs in the first inning.
Dustin Pedroia, who had his 14-game hitting streak snapped, drew a lead-off walk from Seattle lefthander Jason Vargas (4-3, 3.28 ERA) to spark the one-out rally.
David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez followed with back-to-back RBI doubles to left off Vargas, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead.
The Sox came back in the bottom of the fourth and tagged Vargas for three more runs on three hits, including homers by left fielder Daniel Nava and catcher Kelly Shoppach.
Nava, who reached on all four plate appearances in Sundayís 12-1 romp over the Indians, hit a high fly that just made it to the Green Monster seats, extending Bostonís lead to 4-0. It snapped a streak of 171 at-bats between his memorable grand slam in his first major league at-bat (on his first pitch, no less) and his second career homer.
"I didnít think it was gone," Nava said. "Knowing how big the wall is and seeing some other balls that guys have hit, I didnít think it compared to a [Will] Middlebrooks bomb, or the one Shop hit later. I thought it was going to go off the wall, but I was surprised that it barely squeaked over.
"But Iíll take it, Iím not going to complain."
After Marlon Byrd flew out to center, Shoppach took Vargas deep to left, clearing the wall with a mammoth solo homer that made it 5-0. "Occassionally, Iíll bump into Ďem," Shoppach said.
The three runs provided Lester with all the support he would need. He gave up only five hits while recording one strikeout.
"I wasnít coming out of that game unless we scored 10," Lester said. "For me, it was my game, and Bobby [Valentine] was going to have to fight me for the ball if he came to the end of the dugout."
It marked Lester's eighth career complete game and second of the season after going eight innings in a 3-1 loss at Toronto April 11. Lester's last nine-inning complete game came June 27, 2010, at San Francisco.
It also was the third straight game Red Sox starters gave up 1 run or fewer -- the first time that has happened since April 16-18, 2011.
"When you start seeing guys succeed and making pitches and getting out of jams, and the offense comes in and picks our guys up if we give up a run and scores another run, that confidence just keeps building," Lester said. "And you feel like if I buy into what weíre doing the next few pitches, everything will take care of itself.
"I think thatís been our mindset the last four nights."
It will have to be Beckett's mindset if he intends to keep pace with the rest of the staff.