Taking a quick glance at the line score for the Red Sox' 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday afternoon, one might think that the third inning was the difference in the game. That's when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer for Boston, so that would be a pretty safe assessment.
Yet, for many of the guys who were in the thick of the battle, there was another frame that stood out.
Sox starter Jon Lester had a 3-1 lead after Ellsbury's homer, but he had thrown 79 pitches through the first four innings. Since it was the first game of a doubleheader, the Rays had designs on getting Lester out of the game early and forcing Boston to go to the bullpen early.
Then came the fifth.
Lester needed just six pitches to retire the side in that frame — two for each batter. The lefty would coast through the next two innings and turn the two-run lead over to the indomitable duo of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
"He went 80 pitches after four, or 79, that was the tipping point for him. We brought it to 85 after five. That was very helpful for him and not so much for us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It permitted him to catch his breath. From his perspective, and their perspective, [the key to the game] was that we went down so quickly in the fifth inning."
Lester said that he needed that inning, especially with the economical way that James Shields was dealing on the other side.
"The fifth inning was nice. It was a nice breather, especially after we scored some runs and get the guys back in the dugout," Lester said. "Those innings are always nice. They don't happen very often. You don't get five, six-pitch innings very often, so especially in a game like today it was definitely a welcome change from my other innings."
The importance of Lester getting through seven with another game on the horizon was not lost on Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
"Looking up in the third or fourth, [I was thinking] if we can get through six here," Francona said of his wishes for Lester at the time. "He kind of reeled it back in, had a couple of quick innings, stayed out for seven and keeps them off the board."