The left-hander did not earn a win until April 28, and in 21 2/3 innings leading up to that win, he allowed 15 runs. After that win, it was as though he flipped a switch. From then until the All-Star break, Lester went 11-1 with a 2.01 ERA. Batters hit just .182 off him, and he registered 103 strikeouts in 98 1/3 innings. Unsurprisingly, he earned his first All-Star selection.
Here's hoping that, amid a second half that has born a great resemblance thus far to his first half, the greener pastures lay not too far ahead.
"A loss is a loss," Lester said Friday night, after the Red Sox lost 6-5 to the Tigers. "It's later in the season and we're trying to win ballgames and get back in this thing, but a loss is a loss. It doesn't feel good, regardless of what time of the season it is. … Any time I take the ball, I don't want to lose, so it doesn't matter the time of the year. They all don't feel good."
Friday's loss to Detroit marked Lester's third straight, the first time in his career he has ever lost three consecutive outings. The statistic can be a bit deceiving, though, because in the three losses, Lester has pitched good enough to win — he just hasn't had much support. Before David Ortiz's ninth-inning grand slam on Friday, his first since 2008, Lester had received three runs of support over three starts since July 18.
Regardless, Lester is never one to place the blame on anyone but himself. The offense, just like it did during the ninth inning on Friday, will come.
"I just didn't execute pitches," he said. "Lineups don't matter; you go out there and execute pitches, and I just flat-out didn't do that tonight."
Although Lester allowed hits in every inning except the fourth and the sixth, he managed to battle through six-plus frames, giving up 11 hits — a career high — and fanning seven. He allowed a single and a double in the first, a home run plus two singles in the second, and two singles in the third, but still managed to tally six K's in those three frames.
"I thought right from the get-go, they made him work hard," said manager Terry Francona. "He missed some bats and he hit some bats. Kind of a weird line — a lot of strikeouts, a lot of hits."
In particular, Lester was victimized by the Tigers' newest addition, Jhonny Peralta. The third baseman led off the second with a home run on the second pitch he saw in a Tigers uniform, then launched a two-run bomb with two out in the fifth, extending Detroit's lead to 4-1.
"The first AB was a 1-0 changeup — he went down and got it," Lester said. "The second AB was a terrible pitch, and he hit a homer. They're supposed to do that on those pitches. … Those aren't the only two pitches that hurt me the whole night, so I'm not too concerned about just those two."
Through his first four starts of the season, Lester struggled to get deep into games, lasting through six innings just once, but that hasn't exactly been the case this time around. Against Texas on July 18, he threw eight innings and allowed four runs on nine hits, and on July 24, he threw 7 2/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) and whiffing a season-high 13.
Lester has been pitching well enough to win. The consistency will come. Lester has proven that. He's won at times when he hasn't been at his best, and lately, he's lost when he has deserved to win.
He is confident the turnaround will come, just like it did in April.
"I go from one start where I had the best stuff I've ever had in probably my life to nothing," Lester said. "So it's just one of those nights. You turn the page, move on, try to get better in five days."
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