Jon Lester, Victor Martinez Lead Red Sox to Win in Opener at Tampa


Jon Lester, Victor Martinez Lead Red Sox to Win in Opener at Tampa Postgame, Red Sox 3-1:
They have gone final in Chicago and the Yankees have also lost, giving the Red Sox two targets just 4 1/2 games away.

To make the situation even more appealing, Clay Buchholz is on the mound Saturday night. Boston has an excellent opportunity to clinch a series win and keep the heat on in what could develop into one of the greatest playoff races in recent history.

Tune in to NESN for the pregame at 6:00. First pitch is 7:10 p.m. And follow the live blog for all the news and notes.

Final, Red Sox 3-1: Pitching (OK, other than the seven walks) and power. The time-tested formula gives the Red Sox enough to get in the first shot in this do-or-die series.

Jon Lester allows just an unearned run in seven innings and Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon close the door as Boston pulls within 4 1/2 games, five in the loss column.

Victor Martinez provides all the offense needed with a pair of solo shots.

Back in a bit to sum it up for you.

Mid 9th, Red Sox 3-1: Dan Wheeler does his job to keep the Rays close. Three outs from a 4 1/2-game deficit for the Red Sox.

End 8th, Red Sox 3-1: A check-swing liner into the glove of Daniel Bard ends the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon will be facing Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist in the ninth.

The Yankees are getting spanked by Chicago right now. This is setting up to be a pretty productive evening for Boston.

Mid 8th, Red Sox 3-1: J.D. Drew ends the top of the eighth by blooping a hit into right but gets thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. With two outs and the bottom of the order coming up you can't blame him for trying. Nice job by second baseman Sean Rodriguez to get to the ball quickly.

Daniel Bard is coming on for the Red Sox. He already has the all-time club record for holds in a season with 28.

Ryan Kalish has come into the game at center field. Darnell McDonald moves to left. Adios, Bill Hall.

Hall was the only Boston starter to not get a hit.

End 7th, Red Sox 3-1: Jon Lester's first 1-2-3 inning since the second includes his ninth and 10th strikeouts. With Daniel Bard up and warming in the bullpen, Lester has thrown 106 pitches. He is being congratulated in the dugout so that should be it for him.

Randy Choate has replaced David Price for the Rays so this has become a battle of the bullpens.

Mid 7th, Red Sox 3-1: The battery is doing its job in this one. While Jon Lester has yet to allow an earned run Victor Martinez has crushed two solo homers. His second shot is like the first, a moon shot (can you have one of those in a dome?) to left.

It is Martinez's first multi-homer game since May 17 in New York.

End 6th, Red Sox 2-1: Never should've sent him. That's what I would say to Rays third base coach Tom Foley, who waved in B.J. Upton with no outs in the sixth.

Darnell McDonald throws out Upton at home for the first out of the inning. Had Foley held him, the Rays would've had runners on the corners and no outs. Jon Lester uncorked a wild pitch that might've let Upton score and then walked Carlos Pena, so the opportunities were there, but what a huge out.

McDonald, who does everything well, gets plenty of credit for a fine throw to nail the speedy Upton.

Lester has walked five and thrown three wild pitches.

Mid 6th, Red Sox 2-1: David Price has matched a season high with nine hits allowed, just one shy of tying his career high. But he has struck out eight, including all three in the sixth, and walked none.

The Sox have left at least one man on in every inning. They have outhit the Rays 9-1. You wonder if and when that will come back to hurt them.

End 5th, Red Sox 2-1: With the help of a pickoff Jon Lester overcomes a leadoff walk and has now gone 19 1/3 innings on the road without allowing an earned run.

Mid 5th, Red Sox 2-1: The David Ortiz shift does in the Red Sox in the fifth. With two on and two out Ortiz lines one into shallow right, where second baseman Sean Rodriguez is waiting for it. Boston has left six runners on.

On another note, beyond CC Sabathia, the Yankees' rotation has become a mess and they are already down 4-1 out in Chicago. A.J. Burnett is doing his thing for New York.

There may be a point very soon where the Sox are only chasing the Yanks.

End 4th, Red Sox 2-1: Jon Lester has only given up one hit and has five strikeouts but he has walked two, hit a batter and threw consecutive wild pitches in the fourth to allow Jason Bartlett to score from second. A tad wild, you might say.

Of course, Bartlett reached on a throwing error by shortstop Marco Scutaro, whose arm is becoming more of an issue of late.

After that little mess we wanted to give you a couple of numbers to help you feel a bit better about the Red Sox' chances in this one:

– Tampa Bay is 3-16 on Fridays this season and has lost 14 of its last 15 on this day.

– Boston is 26-15 in the first game of a series.

Mid 4th, Red Sox 2-0: The Red Sox have outhit the Rays 6-0 and it is the softest yet that gets them a second run. Jed Lowrie fights one off into center field to drive in David Ortiz from third.

Ortiz had doubled to lead things off. Jon Lester has not allowed a run in his last 17 1/3 innings on the road. So long as that continues the Sox are sitting pretty.

End 3rd, Red Sox 1-0: Another inning-ending double play helps Jon Lester work around a two-out walk. He has three strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter through three.

We all saw what happened to Jon Lester in his previous start but the two before that were about as clutch as can be. There was the 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees in New York and then the eighth shutout innings at Texas, two of the club's five wins on its recent 10-game road trip.

Perhaps this will be another timely effort.

Mid 3rd, Red Sox 1-0: Naturally, it's a fastball that Darnell McDonald rips for a triple with one out, improving to 3-for-6 in his career against David Price. Alas, McDonald is stranded following a pair of groundouts.

Boston has left a man on in each inning.

End 2nd, Red Sox 1-0: Much smoother inning for Jon Lester in the second. He fans a pair and then gets Sean Rodriguez on a fly to right.

The Yankees will begin in Chicago in about 30 minutes. It's kind of nice to only have to pay attention to one game when we watch the scoreboard.

Mid 2nd, Red Sox 1-0: David Price is doing exactly what he did the last time he faced the Red Sox, throwing nothing but heat. It was 100 of 111 pitches that were heaters back on July 7. Thus far it's been 31 out of 32.

J.D. Drew singles with one out but is left there.

End 1st, Red Sox 1-0: We mentioned earlier how the extended rest and the fact that he would be so amped up to erase the sting of his last start may lead to a shaky first few innings for Jon Lester. When he walked Jason Bartlett on four pitches and then hit Carlos Pena with a pitch, it looked like there could be some early issues.

A 6-4-3 double play is the savior and Lester is through the first unscored upon.

Mid 1st, Red Sox 1-0: Talk about a great start. Victor Martinez takes David Price deep to left, his 11th of the season and first since Aug. 7. Adrian Beltre also singles to extend the inning before Price strikes out David Ortiz to end it.

6:52 p.m.: Carl Crawford is a late scratch for the Rays due to a stomach virus. Here is the new lineup for Tampa Bay:

B.J. Upton, CF
Jason Bartlett, SS
Carlos Pena, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Willy Aybar, DH
Ben Zobrist, RF
Sean Rodriguez, 2B
Kelly Shoppach, C
Matt Joyce, LF

6:41 p.m.: Due to a day off Monday, the Jon Lester-Daisuke Matsuzaka shuffle has actually not altered the starting rotation down the stretch one bit.

Lester would've been scheduled to go Wednesday in Baltimore even if he went Wednesday night in the finale of the doubleheader since the Sox would've had a pair of off-days.

Therefore, he would have been on extended rest either way, which is not the best way to go about things for the lefty. In his career he is 28-6 with a 3.42 ERA on his usual four days of rest.

When he has five days between starts those numbers are 19-13 and 3.56. After six days of rest, as is the case Friday, he is 8-5 with a 4.06 mark.

Opponents' batting averages and slugging and on-base percentages rise with each extra day off. Similarly, his strikeout-to-walk ratio suffers a bit more.

Across the board Lester has struggled a tad more when delayed between starts. And you know he was chomping at the bit to get back out there after his rough outing last time out. We may see early on whether he has it or not.

5:49 p.m.: According to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe, Dustin Pedroia has admitted to reporters in St. Pete that surgery is likely on his broken left foot.

Pedroia was placed in a protective boot for the second time earlier this week and will have another scan in a week back in Boston. That is when the final decision will be made, but it doesn't look good for Pedroia getting back on the field this season.

"It's upsetting," Pedroia told reporters. "I just want to get to next week and go on from there. I don't
know if I have to have the surgery or what. It hasn't been healing that well
pretty much the whole time."

The Red Sox will hold out hope that their All-Star second baseman can come back in 2010, but it seems like risking major damage to the foot and not being ready for 2011 is a possibility if he does not have the surgery now.

That is the most pressing and serious of the injury news, but there's more.

Jason Varitek caught Hideki Okajima's side session and seems just about ready to go. Last we heard he had not been able to run at full speed, but a rehab stint may be imminent.

Okajima may be activated Saturday. Perhaps Michael Bowden will be the roster casualty, but Sept. 1 is right around the corner so he would be back in a few days.

Mike Cameron had his surgery earlier Friday to repair a hernia and relieve pressure on a groin muscle. Terry Francona said he should be ready to resume baseball activities by Dec. 1, or thereabouts. That should put him on course for an unimpeded run into spring training.

Back in a bit with more.

4:23 p.m.: Word out of St. Petersburg is that Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch Thursday in Baltimore. With Monday being a day off Jon Lester can go on regular rest Wednesday and Tim Wakefield would go back to the bullpen.

Also, Hideki Okajima is not quite ready to be activated from the 15-day disabled list. He has been sidelined with a right hamstring strain since Aug. 6. The lefty threw a 30-pitch side session but the club is not prepared to bring him back just yet.

Felix Doubront remains the lone left-hander in the bullpen.

Here is the Rays lineup against Lester:

B.J. Upton, CF
Jason Bartlett, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
Ben Zobrist, RF
Willy Aybar, DH
Sean Rodriguez, 2B
Kelly Shoppach, C

3:45 p.m.: We are a few hours from the start of a highly anticipated series in St. Petersburg and Terry Francona has put forth a very unique lineup against Rays' lefty David Price. Take a peek:

Marco Scutaro, SS
Darnell McDonald, CF
Victor Martinez, C
Adrian Beltre, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
Mike Lowell, 1B
J.D. Drew, RF
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Bill Hall, LF

8 a.m.: From a Red Sox' perspective, the sore back suffered by Daisuke Matsuzaka on Wednesday afternoon presents another potential headache.

From a fan's perspective, it allows us to look forward to a savory pitching matchup in the opener of a crucial three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Matsuzaka, originally scheduled to start the opener with the Rays on Friday, was scratched and will be replaced by Jon Lester, who was slated to go Wednesday against Seattle. Lester will now oppose fellow All-Star lefty David Price on Friday night in a game that is sure to have a playoff vibe to it.

The two southpaws, who both rank among the top 10 in the American League in wins, ERA and opponents' batting average, will be relied upon to set the tone for a series with major implications. The Sox enter the contest 5 1/2 games behind the Rays and the New York Yankees in the division and wild card race.

There are very minor concerns surrounding Lester. He is coming off the worst start of his career, a two-inning, nine-run implosion against Toronto. Also, he has always performed a bit better on regular rest, but will have six days between starts in this one; Lester's ERA on six or more days of rest is 0.49 higher than his career norm.

Price allowed two runs and struck out 10 in 7 2/3 innings to defeat the Red Sox on July 7 at home.

First pitch for this one is 7:10 p.m.

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