BOSTON — Jon Lester's struggles in April have been well documented. What we have not seen much of lately is the Red Sox — as a team — getting off to slow starts.
Now, after another rough outing by Lester on another rough afternoon for the Sox, those two worlds have collided.
"I don't know what I have to do," Lester said after giving up all seven runs in a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, Boston's fourth straight setback. "I just have to be better. It's unacceptable. I'm letting the rotation down. I'm letting the bullpen down. … Most importantly, I'm letting the team down with how I'm throwing.
"I need to pick it up and kick myself in the [behind]."
Lester fell to 0-2 on the year. He has given up 15 runs in 16 innings. The painful numbers drop his career record in 15 March and April starts to 2-6 with a 5.46 ERA.
It also dropped Boston to 4-8, the club's worst 12-game start since 1996, which was also the last year the club had a losing April (7-19). In order to keep alive their streak of 13 straight Aprils at .500 or better, the Sox will have to go 8-3 over the last 11 games of the month.
With the way they have been playing of late, it is hard to imagine such a scenario.
"We're not doing a lot of things correct right now," manager Terry Francona said. "Every day it seems to be something different. We've dug ourselves in. We'll dig ourselves out."
During its four-game losing streak, Boston has been outscored 24-7 and has committed as many errors as it has scored runs. The club is hitless in its last 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Opponents have successfully stolen 20-of-21 bases this season.
The way Sunday started, it looked as if the misery might get washed away. Lester struck out the side in the first, pumping in heat at 96 mph to finish off Ben Zobrist for the third out. However, Carlos Pena took Lester to the camera stand in the center-field bleachers for a two-run shot in the second, and back-to-back walks to start the third set the tone for another rocky frame.
"[The walks] were terrible," said Lester, who has allowed nine bases on balls in 16 innings so far in 2010. "I'm getting tired of getting ahead of guys and going to 3-2 [counts] and end up being predictable. Whether I walk them or give up a hit, it's unacceptable."
In keeping with the recent theme of every single mistake coming back to haunt the Red Sox, both of the men Lester walked in the third eventually scored, as did Pena in a three-run sixth after he led off by drawing a free pass.
Meanwhile, Matt Garza, who beat Lester twice in the 2008 American League Championship Series, was rolling against an offense that has become non-existent. He took a no-hitter into the fifth and had faced the minimum until one out into the seventh.
By then it was 7-0, rain was falling again at Fenway and those still around were filling the place with sarcastic cheers.
The ridicule came hours before the annual Patriots' Day game, a day on which the Red Sox have won six straight times. With the way this April is going, however, nothing aside from the 11:05 a.m. start is a sure thing.
"I don't care what time we play," Francona said. "I just want to play with a lead."
That hasn't happened since Wednesday. Such is life in April 2010.