If Jon Lester hopes to convince the Red Sox they'd be wise to give him upwards of $100 million with his next contract, Saturday night's eight excellent innings at Yankee Stadium would seem to help his cause. So might some of the other performances authored from mounds around the major leagues this weekend.
Among Sunday's starting pitchers, the three highest game scores were registered by hurlers who've recently been given nine-figure deals, those being Homer Bailey ($105 million), Felix Hernandez ($175 million), and Clayton Kershaw ($215 million). And that came on the heels of Saturday, when Yu Darvish (a $112 million commitment, including posting fees), Masahiro Tanaka ($155 million), Zack Greinke ($147 million), and Matt Cain ($127 million) all joined Lester in looking ace-like.
Between them there's almost a billion dollars committed to those eight arms, and not all of them have consistently been worth the cost this season, but look at what they combined to render over the weekend: three earned runs in 63 innings -- an ERA of 0.43 -- along with 67 strikeouts and 35 hits.
So while Sunday night Lester refuted a report that he and the Red Sox have resumed talks on a contract extension, it might be a good time for him to do so. Because not only is he throwing the ball well, and on pace for the best season of his career, but because contracts the likes of which he's seeking have looked like wise investments over the past couple days.
Let's take a look at how Sunday's pitching performances translated for their teams, and what else went on around baseball as the Red Sox pulled to within six games of the AL East lead...
IN THE DIVISION
Rays 12, Orioles 7: Matt Joyce had five hits, four RBIs, and two of Tampa Bay's five homers as the Rays busted things open in the middle innings and spoiled Baltimore's chance to move within half a game of the division lead. Ben Zobrist, Kevin Kiermaier, and Logan Forsythe also went deep for the Rays, who punished Baltimore relievers Evan Meek and Brian Matusz to win three of four at Camden Yards.
Tampa Bay is 4 games behind Boston; Baltimore, 4 up on Boston.
White Sox 4, Blue Jays 0: Toronto spent all of June in first place, and will enter July at the top of the East, too -- but can't be comfortable in that standing. After dropping a third straight to the White Sox, the Jays have lost 15 of 22, the latest coming when Moises Sierra victimized the team that waived him in early May by launching a solo homer. Mark Buehrle couldn't match the feat against his former club, going eight innings but getting outpitched by Jose Quintana (7 IP, 3 H, 7 K).
Chicago is 0.5 games up on Boston; Toronto, 6 up.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Royals 5, Angels 4: Howie Kendrick flat-out dropped a throw at second base on what should've been a double play to end the ninth, then one pitch later Omar Infante laced a walkoff single against the newly acquired Jason Grilli to give the Royals the rubber match. Lorenzo Cain had three doubles among for hits for Kansas City.
KC is 4.5 games up on Boston; Los Angeles, 8 up.
Astros 6, Tigers 4: Houston took a series from the Central leaders, winning Sunday by knocking Drew Smyly from the game after just seven outs, and by way of three more hits from Jose Altuve. Hitting .424 in June he's batting an AL-best .347 for the season, and he also added two more to his league-leading total of 36 stolen bases.
Houston is 2.5 games behind Boston; Detroit is 5 games up.
Twins 3, Rangers 2: Like Stephen Drew is with the Red Sox, Kendrys Morales is struggling after sitting out spring training and signing mid-season. He's hitting .227 with a .596 OPS, but Sunday afternoon he was good enough to beat Rangers closer Joakim Soria for a game-winning double, plating Sam Fuld in the ninth to help the Twins end a 10-game losing streak. Former Sox Carlos Pena and Adrian Beltre hit 3-4 for the Rangers, combining to go 1-for-7, including an 0-for-3 from Haverhill's Pena during which he saw just five pitches.
Minnesota is even with Boston; Texas, 0.5 games behind.
Mariners 3, Indians 0: Robinson Cano hit his fifth homer for Seattle, but the big star was Hernandez, who allowed just a hit and three walks over eight scoreless innings. The King also had nine strikeouts, as the Mariners improved to 18-12 over the past 30 games -- trailing only Oakland's 20-10 mark over that span. The Indians, meanwhile, have lost seven of 10.
Seattle is 6 games up on Boston; Cleveland, 1.5 up.
Athletics 4, Marlins 3: Oakland continues to assert itself as the best team in the AL, if not baseball, finishing off a sweep of Miami via a three-run homer from Nate Freiman and seven strong innings from Tommy Milone. The Marlins, however, are trending the other way; they've lost four straight and seven of 10 to fall five games out in the NL East.
Oakland is 13.5 games up on Boston.
NATIONAL LEAGUE NOTABLES
Former Red Sox Marlon Byrd hit two homers for the Phillies, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Braves from winning, 3-2, and capping their first four-game sweep at Philadelphia in 50 years ... Pedro Alvarez -- drafted in the 14th round but never signed by the Sox in 2005 -- used his 14th homer of the season to give the Pirates a 5-2 win over the Mets. Bartolo Colon took the loss, while another ex-Boston pitcher, Mark Melancon, notched his 15th save ... Former Sox property Jorge De La Rosa threw three wild pitches, and saw his ERA climb to 4.86, but he's 8-6 after the Rockies beat the Brewers, 10-4 ... Kershaw ran his personal scoreless streak to 28 innings while whiffing 13 in seven frames of work, and helping the Dodgers pull into a first-place tie in the NL West, as part of a 6-0 victory over the Cardinals ... Adrian Gonzalez sparked a fourth-inning rally with a bunt single, one of his two hits ... Bailey took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Giants, ultimately allowing three safeties but still finishing a 4-0 win at San Francisco. Cincinnati swept a four-game set ... Padres rookie Odrisamer Despaigne has allowed just one run over 13.2 big-league innings after beating the Diamondbacks, 2-1. Joaquin Benoit (1.34 ERA) and Huston Street (0.93 ERA) were once again flawless in the eighth and ninth, and their presumed availability could potentially complicate the trade market should the Red Sox eventually decide to deal Koji Uehara (or another reliever).
10 YEARS AGO TODAY ...
Tim Wakefield hadn't been scored upon through six innings, and the Sox had a two-run lead at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees tied the game by scoring twice on an error by first baseman David Ortiz, then took the lead when Gary Sheffield doubled home Kenny Lofton against Mike Timlin in the eighth. Ortiz did homer for Boston, his 21st, though the Sox still lost for the ninth time in 14 games, falling 7.5 games out in the division. (Ortiz has not played at first base at Yankee Stadium since that night.)