Conspiracy theorists should have a field day with the Red Sox’ 5-1 loss in Seattle on Saturday night. The way the Sox failed to support Jon Lester at every turn, letting him down in every department, it almost felt as if there was a plan in place to spoil his effort.
Lester showcased some of the best stuff in a Red Sox uniform against the lowly Mariners attack, retiring the first 16 he faced and finishing with a career-high 13 strikeouts. Yet, it was all for naught on a night that saw Boston’s slumping offense continue to sputter, the defense blow his very realistic bid for a perfect game and the bullpen fail to stop the bleeding after Lester left.
The complete lack of assistance for the team’s best pitcher left him with two straight losses for the first time since April and continued a theme established in his previous start.
Facing Texas at Fenway Park on Sunday, Lester saw an ugly error by third baseman Adrian Beltre allow one run to score and a steal of home allow another to come in during a 4-2 loss to the Rangers. Lester’s teammates managed just five hits.
Against the Mariners, the lefty was given a lead when David Ortiz went deep to lead off the fourth. With the way Lester was pitching, it looked as if that might have been all he would need. Perhaps that’s why the Boston offense completely disappeared thereafter, managing just three singles and one walk and finishing with fewer than four runs for the ninth time in 10 games.
The Ortiz blast could have been enough if not for the defense, which was noticeably absent again in the sixth.
Moments after Lester picked up his 11th strikeout to start the inning, Seattle shortstop Jack Wilson sent a soft liner to left-center field, where Eric Patterson was camped for what should have been an easy catch.
But Patterson flubbed it, and Lester was suddenly forced to pitch out of the stretch for the first time all night.
Just seconds later he served up a two-run homer to Michael Saunders that gave the Mariners all that they would need.
Finally, in the eighth, the conspiracy got creative. Lester allowed a leadoff triple to Milton Bradley but then got the first out on the last of his 13 strikeouts. Wilson was then able to get down a picture-perfect squeeze bunt that made it 3-1.
With two outs, Saunders bounced one back to the mound that caught Lester in the right foot and caromed into foul territory for a single. It may have been the third out if it got through or just bounced somewhere that a teammate could have handled it. Instead, a new rally had begun, and Lester left moments later trailing 4-1 and wondering how a bid for a perfect game had resulted in such a disaster.
For good measure, as Lester watched from the dugout, Manny Delcarmen came on and walked the bases full before hitting Jose Lopez with a pitch. It forced in the fifth run of the night, naturally charged to Lester.
The southpaw’s final line: 7 2/3 innings pitched, four hits, five runs, four earned runs, one walk, 13 strikeouts, poor run support, suspect defense and a bullpen that couldn’t clean up his one and only mess.
For the second straight start, Jon Lester received no assistance, little protection and a fate he did not deserve. Even the theorists can agree on that.