It took an extra inning and help from an errant throw, but the Sox were able to scratch out a tough 2-1 win over in their series opener with the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.
After reaching with a one-out single, Jacoby Ellsbury stole second. Then, Jose Lobaton, a late sub for started Jose Molina, fired a wild throw that bounced off the glove of shortstop Yunel Escobar and into the outfield allowing Ellsbury to take third.
From there, it was almost academic that Shane Victorino would lay down a bunt to bring Ellsbury home and put the game away. But he tapped one for an infield single.
On a day when offense was scarce, the hits were huge.
Lester went 7 innings, allowing the one run on five hits with five strikeouts and a walk, dueling with the 2012 Cy Young award winner.
Although he struggled in his last early season start a year ago against the Sox and had gotten off to a rocky beginning in this season, giving up 11 runs in 10 innings, David Price was locked in, going six innings, giving up just the one run on four hits with eight strikeouts.
In the fifth inning, with the Sox trailing 1-0, David Ross blasted his first home run of the year over, launching a two-out, 3-and-2 pitch over the Monster.
Sox closer Joel Hanrahan, who had three days to shake off the save he blew on Wednesday to the Orioles, struggled again, walking the only two batters he’s faced. Of the 25 hitters he’s seen this season, 11 have reached base (9 of 14 in the past two games).
Koji Uehara was able to clean up the mess, coming in and retiring James Loney, Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts in order to hold the Rays scoreless in the ninth.
Bottom of the ninth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1: It wasn’t exactly economical, but Joe Maddon used three different pitchers keep the Sox quiet in the ninth.
After Daniel Nava singled and Jonny Gomes walked with two outs, Stephen Drew came up with a chance to send everyone home. He sent one on a line to centerfield but directly at Desmond Jennings.
Top of the ninth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1: With the game tied, Joel Hanrahan got himself into another mess in the ninth. He faced two batters and walked them both. Evan Longoria walked on four straight pitches, and Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves promptly took a trip to the mound.
Everything about the seven-pitch Ben Zobrist walk was shakey. The whole time Koji Uehara was up in the bullpen. The Sox were getting antsy waiting on him to get warm.
He came in and sat down James Loney (strikeout looking), Yunel Escobar (fly ball), and Ryan Roberts (pop up) in order to get out of the inning without surrendering the go-ahead run, pumping his fist all the way to the dugout.
Hanrahan’s demeanor on the way in was understandably opposite. He has faced 25 batters this season and 11 have reached base. In the last two games, nine of the 14 batters he’s faced have reached.
Bottom of the eighth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1: Jake McGee and Andrew Bailey each gave their teams quality scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
For Bailey, he’s now up to five holds.
The line on Jon Lester: 7 innings, one run, five hits, five strikeouts, one walk, 100 pitches (63 strikes) and 26 batters faced.
On Price: 6 innings, one run, four hits, eight strikeouts, two walks, 106 pitches (69 strikes), and 24 batters faced.
Joel Hanrahan, who has had three days to shake off the save he blew on Wednesday, is up in the bullpen.
Bottom of the sixth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1: David Price’s giving up a pair of two-out hits had Rays manager worried enough to get lefty Jake McGee up in the bullpen.
The first-and-second, two-out situation Price found himself in could have been shaky, but the hitter the Sox sent to the plate happened to be, Daniel Nava, just the man Price wanted to see.
Nava, who came in 1 for 15 against Price, flew out to center. He’s 0 for 3 today. Manager John Farrell, cognizant of the numbers, went with Nava over Jackie Bradley, but that bet hasn’t paid off.
Bottom of the fifth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1: Taken pitch by pitch, the two-out at-bat that ended in David Ross’s first home run, a game-tying smash over the Monster, was an impressive exercise in patience.
He fouled off the first pitch (it caught Rays catcher Jose Molina in the mask, but he shook it off), then got ahead in the count by passing on a pair of pitches that were down in the strike zone. He nicked a pretty good changeup at the knees from Price to make it 2-and-2, then ignored a fastball that was clearly too far inside.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, he got a pitch he could rip, a change up over the plate about belt-high, and crushed it. Ross is 2 for 5 against for his career against Price. The two hits? Two homers.
Top of the fifth, Rays 1, Red Sox 1:Lester and Price are playing anything-you-can-do right now.
After Price struck out two in the fourth, Lester came out for the fifth and rung up two of his own (Matt Joyce with a cutter inside and Sean Rodriguez with a changeup away). He’s up to five for the day.
Bottom of the fourth, Rays 1, Red Sox 0: Price used the entire arsenal that inning. He struck out Daniel Nava with a curveball. The batter before he got Will Middlebrooks reaching for a change up.
He has run his strike out total up to six.
Meanwhile, David Ortiz went 1 for 4 with a two-run single,in Pawtucket’s 7-1 win over Rochester. It’s uncertain if he’ll play in the second game of the doubleheader, but it would seem that with four to five at-bats being the target coming in for the day, he’s gotten the work he needs.
Top of the third, Rays 1, Red Sox 0: The Rays used their speed at the top of the order to put together the first run of game. Desmond Jennings led it off with a single to left, then Sean Rodriguez knocked one into the left-field corner for a double.
Jennings scored from first, and made it look easy. Last year, he scored six runs when a double was hit while he was on first.
Even with a wild pitch, though, Lester didn’t let the inning get worse. In retiring the next tree hitters in order, Lester began by fanning Evan Longoria, to give him 1,076 career strikeouts. With that, he took over sole possession of sixth place on the Red Sox strikeout list, moving him past Luis Tiant.
Bottom of the second, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: Jonny Gomes worked a six-pitch walk in a quiet inning for the Sox.
Bottom of the first, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: So about David Price’s fastball …
Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli both got really good looks at it. Price froze them both heaters, high and tight. The one to Victorino was 94-mph. Napoli’s was 95, and Price may have gotten some help from home plate umpire Doug Eddings.
Still, he was throwing darts. Nothing like a nationally-televised pitchers duel.
Top of the first, Red Sox 0, Rays 0: The highlight of the inning was easily the quick-reaction play that Stephen Drew made on a liner that hopped out of Will Middlebrooks’ glove (to everyone thinking Jose Iglesias would have made the catch behind his back: contain yourselves).
But Jon Lester looked impressive against hitters that were trying to milk him for pitches. Desmond Jennings’ at-bat was five pitches. Sean Rodrigues worked a six-pitch walk after falling behind 1-and-2. Even Evan Longoria’s strikeout, staring at a cutter down and in, came on six pitches.
Lester looked nice working through front-end hitters that tried to make it tough on him.
Pregame: In five starts against the Red Sox last season, David Price went 2-1 with 36 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA, but his worst performance was easily his April start. He got knocked around over three innings, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks, and afterward all he could do was look ahead.
“I’m going to have 33, 34 starts this year,” he said after that start. “There’s going to be one or two starts you don’t have it.”
Obviously, he shook the start off and put together a Cy Young campaign. But it’s early in the season again and he’s struggling, having given up 10 runs in 11 innings already this year, and there’s some intrigue about the speed of his fastball.
After the Rays’ season opener against the Orioles, Price told the Tampa Tribune, “Last year my lowest velocity month was April,’’ he said. “That’s part of it. It’s a growing process. You don’t just come out here and turn yourself into Cy Young in the first outing. I’m really fine with the way I threw the ball today.’’
It will be interesting to see how things play out against a team he’s come to dominate the past four years.
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