TORONTO — This time around against the Blue Jays, Jon Lester did much better.
Although he absorbed a 5-0 loss Sunday before a Rogers Centre crowd of 21,698, it was a better showing than the last time he faced the Blue Jays, July 22 at Fenway Park, when he gave up a career-high 11 runs on nine hits in an 11-4 setback.
This time, Lester strung together six scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Jays before allowing three runs on three hits in the seventh inning. He departed after the seventh, having walked one while ringing up seven strikeouts and throwing 101 pitches, 68 strikes.
“I don’t know if he threw a bad pitch,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said of Lester’s outing. “Except maybe for the curveball to [Omar] Vizquel. He was in and out, doing a heck of a job.’’
Vizquel, the 45-year-old marvel who started at second base and batted seventh in John Farrell’s lineup, recorded the first hit against Lester with his leadoff double to left in the third inning. He then helped the Jays score their first run in the seventh when he followed a two-out single to center by Yan Gomes with one of his own that scored pinch runner Rajai Davis from second.
“It’s not a matter of [what was] working or not working [in that inning],’’ Lester said. “An inning like that, an 0-and-0 fastball [to Gomes] and the guy hits a single up the middle. Obviously with a pinch runner [like Davis], I was trying to be quick to the plate, but he steals 30-plus bags for a reason and I kind of left a curveball middle up [for Vizquel].’’
“Vizquel’s been around a long time,’’ added Lester, “and he didn’t try to do too much with it and got a base knock.’’
The next pitch, to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, proved disastrous, though.
“Next pitch, went right back to executing, did what I had to do and he put a better swing on it,’’ Lester said of the 91-m.p.h. cutter he offered up to Hechavarria, who smacked a two-run homer to the second level of seats in left field.
Hechavarria’s second homer of the season gave the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.
“It’s baseball,’’ said Lester, who dropped to 9-12 after losing for the second time in his last seven starts, going 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in that stretch. “You make a great pitch, they hit it; you make a pitch right down the middle, and they hit it right to somebody. That’s the way it goes sometimes.’’
Still, it was night and day from Lester’s previous outing against the Blue Jays, when he pitched four innings and gave up five runs in the first inning.
Asked to sum up his performance Sunday, Lester said, “Great. Awesome. Best I’ve thrown all year.’’
While he dismissed the setback as “a blip,’’ it could only be viewed as such given the way Lester has pitched in his last seven outings.
“The adjustments we’ve made after the All-Star break, with the exception of a few right there after where I was still trying to figure some things out, yeah, I’ve got to keep looking at those as positives,’’ Lester said.
“Just keep plugging away, keep working on those things, and try to pitch as many innings as I can every time I take the ball. The rest will, I shouldn’t say take care of itself, but it’s all I can really control, taking the ball every five days and seeing what happens when I go out there.’’