BOSTON — The Jon Lester who took the mound in the third through seventh innings Thursday afternoon was exactly what the Boston Red Sox want to see out of their ace: He was efficient, kept runners off the basepaths and got the big out when he needed it.
The Lester fans at Fenway Park saw during the first and second innings, however, was something else entirely.
The left-hander entered Boston’s series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays with hopes of snapping his team’s season-long six-game losing streak — righting the ship after what has been a disastrous weeklong stretch for the defending World Series champions.
“Ideally, you’re looking for that guy — in this case, Jon — to shut down and stop a streak, and that wasn’t the case,” manager John Farrell said after the Red Sox’s 7-2 loss.
Instead, the Blue Jays jumped on Lester almost immediately. Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista sent his sixth and seventh pitches, respectively, into the Green Monster seats or beyond, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead before most of the rain-soaked spectators had even found their seats.
“I can deal with the first inning,” Lester said. “I made two bad pitches. … I can deal with solo homers. I had to do a better job in the second inning.”
If a sledgehammer was Toronto’s tool of choice to get on the board in the first inning, it broke out the chisel in the second. The Blue Jays hung five runs on Lester in frame No. 2, all without the assistance of an extra-base hit. Five singles, a walk and a sacrifice bunt did the trick as nine batters came to the plate before Dioner Navarro finally flied to center for the final out. (It was a rough evening overall for Navarro. The catcher finished 0-for-5 at the dish, ending innings in all five of his plate appearances.)
Lester settled down from then on, holding the Blue Jays to three hits over the next 4 1/3 innings, but with his counterpart, Mark Buehrle, continuing to pitch like it’s 2005 (two runs, seven hits, zero walks over seven innings to pick up his major league-leading eighth win), Toronto’s early outburst was more than enough.
The loss continued the struggles Red Sox starting pitchers have experienced of late. Of the 33 runs scored against the Sox during their winless six-game homestand — their first since 1994 — only four were charged to the Boston bullpen. This is also a rotation that will be without one of its key pieces for at least the next two weeks, as Felix Doubront headed to the disabled list after shoulder pain forced him out his a start Tuesday.
Couple that with the team’s drastic drop-off in offensive production (17th in the majors in runs and 21st in batting average after Thursday’s loss), Farrell said, and it’s not difficult to see why the Red Sox are hovering near the bottom of the American League East.
“We’re in a stretch of game here where we’re giving up too many runs early, and we’re scuffling to score runs,” Farrell said. “That’s a dangerous combination right now.”