For the 14th time in the last 16 games, Boston’s starter has delivered a scintillating performance in which he has lasted six innings or more. This time, it was Jon Lester, who endured a couple of token, short-lived tests en route to seven innings of four-hit, two run ball against the Diamondbacks.
“His command wasn’t what we’ve seen. Saying that, he pitches seven innings and gives up two,” said manager Terry Francona. “He had seven strikeouts, walked three, hit two — he hit two guys with his cutter, and I think that’s an indication he was fighting himself a little. That being said, you look up and see his line … it’s pretty good.”
Lester took home his eighth win of the season and remains undefeated in his last 11 starts. He’s not about to let Clay Buchholz steal the show any longer. This group of Red Sox starters has long claimed that they look to one another to keep themselves on the ball, and if Lester’s start on Wednesday was any indication following Buchholz’s team-leading ninth win of the season, it’s true.
“Obviously, your objective is to win the game, and we did it [Wednesday],” Lester said. “With that being said, there are some things that need to be refined and fixed before my next start.”
Just like Buchholz did the night before, Lester faced tests against an aggressive Arizona lineup. The first came in the top of the second, when — after Dustin Pedroia put Boston up 2-0 with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first — he allowed Justin Upton to even the score with a one-out moonshot of his own.
Although Lester allowed three hits in the frame, he escaped, thanks to a double play — and a changeup that he has become increasingly comfortable using. The pitch is one Lester said has improved “tenfold” from where it once was, one that took a lot of honing during spring training in order to become a weapon instead of a ploy to pull out of the hat.
“I have more confidence and am able to throw it in different counts,” he said. “It’s not just a 1-0, we’re going to try to take a shot and use it. It’s becoming an out pitch, something that’s comfortable. I feel like with any of my pitches, as long as I have that trust and throw it, good things will happen.”
In the fourth inning, Lester dug himself into another hole, loading the bases with one out. But he struck out No. 8 hitter Rusty Ryal and induced Chris Snyder into a popout to escape that jam and preserve a 4-2 lead.
“He was staying on top of the [changeup] pretty good,” said catcher Victor Martinez. “Obviously we got a hitter [in Ryal] who was very aggressive, that was the better pitch to go to.”
Again, it was all about execution. It wasn’t easy, but Lester got the job done.
“I had to bear down and make some pitches,” Lester said. “I got myself into the jam, and I had to kind of get myself out. I walked to guys, gave up a hit on the first pitch, so I had to bear down and make some pitches and I was able to do that. Really, I was trying to minimize the damage and walked away with no runs, so that’s always nice.”
Over the next three innings, Lester retired nine straight. How’s that for a rebound?
He grinded his way through, he kept his team in the game, he let his offense do its job. As a result, he extended his winning streak to eight games, the longest active streak in baseball and tying the longest streak of the season, set by Chicago’s Carlos Silva.
Since his last loss on April 18 — yes, April 18 — to Matt Garza, Lester owns a 1.96 ERA, the best mark in the American League. He improved to 5-1 at Fenway Park, where he has proven virtually unbeatable. Lester has certainly come a long way from those early April days when many questioned whether he’d be able to get back to the form with which he led the team throughout much of the last two seasons.
On Wednesday, at least, it all came back to that one pitch that kept an aggressive team off balance. It was that simple, yet not that simple at all.
“We had to mix in something soft,” Lester said. “They’re a very good fastball-hitting team. There are guys with a lot of power, and you have to mix something soft in there to get them off that fastball. I was able to do that. When I was behind in the count, I was able to slow them down just enough to get away with that ball down the middle.”