Jon Lester, Red Sox Now Forced to Bounce Back After Deflating Start to Tough Stretch

Jon LesterThe Red Sox were riding high after Thursday’s 9-2 win over the Phillies. Things weren’t so rosy on Friday, though, and Boston kicked off a difficult stretch in deflating fashion.

Losing to a pitcher like CC Sabathia is never anything to hang your head about. Sabathia is a bona fide ace who’s capable of shutting down a lineup on any given night, even when he enters the start in the midst of a rough patch, like on Friday. In fact, earning a victory against a former Cy Young winner is typically the exception rather than the norm.

The Red Sox’ 4-1 loss to the Yankees wasn’t without some disappointment, though.

Friday’s letdown started well before Mariano Rivera closed the door on Boston’s last-gasp, mini rally, which saw the potential tying run come to the plate in the ninth inning. It even started before Sabathia delivered a strike to Daniel Nava to start off his fantastic outing.

Jacoby Ellsbury was a late scratch from the lineup on Friday. He was originally penciled into John Farrell’s starting nine, but a groin injury he suffered while running the bases on Thursday made him unavailable for the series opener in the Bronx. On the surface, the injury — which appears minor, but the extent of which is not truly known — shouldn’t have been much of an issue. But when it comes on the heels of a performance like Thursday’s, there’s a sinking feeling that accompanies the news.

Ellsbury reached base five times and set a Red Sox single-game record with five stolen bases in Thursday’s win. He played with an edge and singlehandedly changed the complexion of the game. More importantly, he showed that his early-May swoon was a thing of the past, and he reaffirmed just how dynamic he can be at the top of the order when everything’s clicking. The performance, which highlighted an all-around good effort by the Red Sox on Thursday, created the ultimate sense of optimism before a three-game series against the hated Yankees, who happen to be nipping at Boston’s heels in the American League East. That optimism was replaced by shock when Ellsbury was scratched.

Obviously, Friday’s loss can’t and shouldn’t be blamed on Ellsbury’s absence. But that bit of news kickstarted an overall lackluster effort from Jon Lester and the Red Sox in the series opener.

Lester wasn’t terrible on Friday, by any means, but he wasn’t the ace that he needed to be when going up against Sabathia. Lester had very little margin for error, and he faltered early, which created a whole new set of problems for the Red Sox.

Lester struggled with his control, and he seemed to have a hard time grasping home plate umpire Lance Barksdale’s strike zone, which caused some frustration to mount. The Yankees scored two runs on three hits and a walk in the second inning, and the Bronx Bombers were off to the races from there, eventually nailing down the 4-1 victory to pull within a game of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Making matters worse is that Lester now finds himself in the midst of a mini skid. He’s 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA in his last three starts, and the struggles come at a time when Clay Buchholz is battling an AC joint issue.

Friday’s loss is just one in a long season and, as we’ve seen, a lot can change over the course of 24 hours. Ellsbury and Lester, meanwhile, were simply characters in what was an overall disappointing plotline for the Red Sox on Friday. That doesn’t mean the loss doesn’t sting, though.

The Red Sox have a chance to add to their divisional lead and flex their muscle this weekend before a June stretch that includes games against the Rangers, Angels, Rays, Orioles, Tigers and Rockies. They’ll do neither with uninspiring efforts like Friday’s.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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