In the latest of a string of hard-luck outings, Lester struggled through leg cramps in a 9-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night, dropping his fourth straight decision since the All-Star break.
"Kind of in a funk right now. Weird things are happening," said Lester, who gave up four runs — two earned — on seven hits in his shortest start since April 12.
That's not to say Lester does not blame himself for a stretch which has seen his ERA rise from 2.77 to 3.07 and each outing get a little bit shorter than the one before it. But for whatever reason, whether it be his defense failing him, a lack of run support, a screaming infant or leg cramps, the lefty just cannot get a break.
Physically, Lester is fine. As manager Terry Francona said, "We just need to get some fluids in him and get him back on his feet." When he goes to the mound Monday afternoon in Yankee Stadium, he has to hope his run of misfortune has run out, the bouncing baby boy notwithstanding.
Consider his previous three starts:
Facing Texas at home, Lester had an early 1-0 lead but saw it vanish on one play when Nelson Cruz hit an RBI double and then came home from third on a throwing error. The Rangers scored a third run the next inning on a steal of home, naturally on one of Lester's six strikeouts on the day. He went eight innings, gave up three earned runs and received one run of support.
This was a doozy. Lester retired the first 16 men he faced before center fielder Eric Patterson dropped a fly ball, spoiling the All-Star's bid for a perfect game in the sixth. The shutout and the lead went out the window moments later when little-known Michael Saunders took Lester deep. Three more runs came in during the eighth inning, one on a bunt and another when reliever Manny Delcarmen forced in one of Lester's five runs allowed by hitting a batter with the bases loaded. Boston scored one run on a night in which Lester was absolutely dominant but still lost 5-1.
Against Detroit at home, Lester had what he called his worst stuff of the year, and it showed. He gave up a career-high 11 hits and two home runs for the first time since May 9. However, for the third straight game, the Red Sox scored exactly one run in support of Lester. Again his margin for error was razor thin.
"There's nothing physically that's damaging his stuff," said pitching coach John Farrell. "He's pitched in some tight games where a pitch or two has had a bearing on the outcome."
Fast forward to Wednesday. Working on little rest in a game that began at a humid 88 degrees, Lester started strong but hit a bump in the third when his throwing error on a bunt allowed the Indians to score the game's first run. He threw more pitches in that inning than he did in the previous two combined and by the time the fifth inning rolled around, the left hamstring had begun to seize up.
Two trips to the mound by Francona and a team trainer caused a hush to envelop Fenway Park. Moments after the second visit, which came early in the sixth, Lester gave up a solo home run and then a single before he was mercifully lifted.
"I think I do pretty well hydrating before a game but when you're not really used to pitching in heat like this, it gets to you," Lester said.
For the fourth straight time he left the mound on the wrong end of the score. The previous three times the score was 4-1 when he departed. This time it was 4-0.
Errors, no run support, a lack of sleep and now cramps. It has turned a once-dominant season into one that sees Lester in a bit of a struggle. At least he knows his luck has to change.
"I think there's just some bad luck right now," he said. "I just gotta keep grinding it out. Five days, I get another one."
The four days in between, he'll look for some love back home. He sure could use it.
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