He looks like a changed man compared to last year, especially with his fastball. He's throwing it wherever he wants to, and he's doing it at 95-97 mph. He made Vladimir Guerrero look absolutely silly to lead off the inning before getting a flyout and a groundout to seal Jon Lester's 14th career win against the O's.
Mid 9th, Red Sox 6-2: It looked like the Sox had something going there in the top of the ninth, because, well, they did, but Mike Cameron's double play squashed those thoughts.
Jed Lowrie singled after he entered the game in the bottom of the eighth at third for Kevin Youkilis. That is definitely something we'll have to keep an eye on. Even though Lowrie can play everywhere, he's a natural shortstop, so it's highly unlikely he'd be used as a defensive replacement.
Of course, if news breaks of any sort of injury to Youkilis, we'll let you know.
In the meantime, Jonathan Papelbon is on to try and close this out.
End 8th, Red Sox 6-2: Robert Andino — who for whatever reason hits Jon Lester really well — leads off eighth with a double to right, but Lester is able to bear down and get Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Derrek Lee to end the inning.
It also likely ends the night for Lester, and if that's the case, he'll stay undefeated in his career against the Orioles.
Will he move to 14-0, though? That will likely be up to Jonathan Papelbon who should get the ball in the ninth even though it's not a save situation considering he last appeared on last Friday.
Mid 8th, Red Sox 6-2: Jacoby Ellsbury is having a fine night, a night that was just punctuated by what may be the back-breaker.
Ellsbury ripped a two-RBI single to center off of Jason Berken to give the Sox a 6-2 lead.
On a night filled with frustrating missed opporunities, Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia come up with a couple of big hits when they were needed most.
Top 8th, Red Sox 4-2: Jarrod Saltalamacchia did everything he could to solve the Boston RISP woes in the sixth when a deep fly ball to left-center just ran out of gas. In the eighth, he delivers.
Saltalamacchia just lined a single to center off of Mike Gonzalez.
Jason Berken comes on after a strikeout of Carl Crawford.
End 7th, Red Sox 3-2: That's what you need to see out of your ace if you're the Red Sox.
A half-inning after giving Jon Lester the lead, the lefty responds with a strong 1-2-3 inning to send down the O's quietly. Lester is at 92 pitches for the evening, and with Daniel Bard working in Wednesday night's game, my guess is that they'll send Lester back out for the eighth.
For those asking, the Sox entered Thursday night's game with a .210 batting average with runners in scoring position. Only the Padres and A's have worse averages. The Sox were eighth in that category last year.
Mid 7th, Red Sox 3-2: Baseball is a weird, weird game.
Carl Crawford doubles to lead off the inning, as he comes out of the box like he was shot out of a cannon. Then, in an all-around ugly play, Marco Sctuaro is unable to bunt him over, before Jacoby Ellsbury's groundout moves Crawford to third.
With two outs, Dustin Pedroia hits a dribbler (at best) down the third-base line, a ball that Reynolds can't handle, and it goes as Pedroia's second infield hit of the night. More importantly, it gives the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.
End 6th, 2-2: Right now, the Red Sox just can't seem to finish. They couldn't finish the inning offensively, stranding runners at second and third with nobody out, and in the bottom half, Jon Lester can't finish off the O's.
Vladimir Guerrero just hit a two-out solo home run to help the Orioles tie it up.
Wasn't a very good pitch at all by Lester, who then made quick work of Adam Jones to end the inning. Kind of baffling.
Mid 6th, Red Sox 2-1: There has been some talk about the lack of power from Adrian Gonzalez early on, and he says it's just something mechanical. He may have that mechanical flaw figured out, and it may be a matter of time before the power numbers start to accrue.
He picked up his third hit of the night — another double to left — and he's now nine for his last 16.
Only problem was his double came with just Dustin Pedroia on a first, so a run didn't come home. From there, Bergesen worked out of a jam, continuing the scoring position woes for anyone not named Adrian Gonzalez.
End 5th, Red Sox 2-1: After toying with the curveball the first time through the lineup, Jon Lester is starting to predominantly feature the cut fastball right now, and it is working.
If I'm not mistaken, he used the cutter to record all three outs in the fifth, and it was a backdoor cutter that got Derrek Lee to begin the fourth, as well.
Aside from the first and the pair of walks in the fourth, Lester has been dominant against the O's. Again.
Mid 5th, Red Sox 2-1: For the first time all game, Jacoby Ellsbury is retired by Brad Bergesen.
Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez are a combined 4-for-5 tonight. The rest of the Red Sox lineup? They're 0-for-14.
End 4th, Red Sox 2-1: Lester's stretch of 10 consecutive batters retired was erased with two-out walks to Adam Jones and Matt Wieters.
Those are the types of things that make Lester so puzzling sometimes. He's admitted to losing focus at times, and a pair of ugly walks in the midst of what's becoming a dominating performance could easily be blamed on lack of focus.
Curt Schilling recently said that when Lester can get the walks down, that's when the Cy Young awards will start to pile up in the Lester household.
Alas, he works around the free passes to get out of the self-induced jam.
Mid 4th, Red Sox 2-1: Jarrod Saltalamacchia goes down looking on a questionable call to end the fourth inning. That ball looked to be outside, however, the pitch before it looked to be pretty darn good. Saltalamacchia swung at neither. Can't have that.
Bergesen is pitching real well, so long as he's not facing Jacoby Ellsbury or Adrian Gonzalez.
End 3rd, Red Sox 2-1: Just like that, Jon Lester has retired eight in a row after another 1-2-3 inning.
He gave the Orioles a chance in the first, and they couldn't do much with it. It has the feeling of an opportunity lost that could certainly be the difference when things are all said and done.
After a 24-pitch first inning, Lester is only at 42 pitches through three innings as the Sox take the 2-1 lead to the fourth.
Mid 3rd, Red Sox 2-1: Adrian Gonzalez's ability to hit with runners in scoring position (especially with two outs) is one of his strongest traits. He just showed a fine example of it with a two-out RBI single to right scoring Jacoby Ellsbury.
Credit Ellsbury for setting the table in front of Gonzalez, as he picked up his second hit of the evening to set the table. Ellsbury has twice taken what Brad Bergesen has given him and it's resulted in hits to left field.
Things could have been a lot worse for the O's that inning, too, but a couple of fine plays bailed out Bergesen. Dustin Pedroia was retired on a groundout to third that Mark Reynolds made a nice barehanded play on, and then Kevin Youkilis was put away to end the inning on a sliding catch by Nick Markakis.
End 2nd, 1-1: Much better inning for Lester in the second. You would like to see more strikes out of him, especially if he's going to hang around deep in this one, but he did rebound nicely, including a strikeout of Matt Wieters who works him pretty well.
We've already seen a lot of the curveball tonight from Lester, which is something you don't see all too often from him, especially the first time through the order.
Something to keep an eye one.
Mid 2nd, 1-1: Just as soon as Dave Magadan gets done talking about the adjustments he and Carl Crawford are trying to make, the left fielder hits a lazy fly ball to end the inning.
Not a very good job of working counts there for the Red Sox in that inning at all, especially when you consider Lester could have used a bit of a blow to regain himself after a tough first frame.
End 1st, 1-1: The Baltimore Orioles have never beaten Jon Lester. But then again, he's never given them much help. He did in the first inning of this one, though.
Lester is struggling mightily with the command. He committed the pitcher's cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter, and as it often does, it came back to haunt him.
Brian Roberts, the recipient of the free pass, scored on a Derrek Lee single after stealing third base.
Lester got some help, though, when Vladimir Guerrero chased a curveball three feet out of the zone (shocking!), and then Adam Jones grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Could have been much worse there.
Mid 1st, Red Sox 1-0: Adrian Gonzalez does something the Red Sox haven't been accustomed to doing as of late — getting a hit with a runner in scoring position.
Gonzalez's RBI double scoring Jacoby Ellsbury gives Jon Lester a lead before even sets foot on the mound.
As a commenter pointed out, Dave Roberts is not at second base for the O's. Error on my part. Brian Roberts is of course at second where he just helped turn a double play on David Ortiz ending the inning.
One thing that is kind of concerning is another strikeout from Dustin Pedroia. The second baseman now has just one hit in 20 at-bats. It was also his 17th strikeout of the season. He didn't reach that mark until May 9 last season.
6:58 p.m.: Real quick before things get going in Baltimore, let's take a look around the AL East where there was some day baseball going on.
The Blue Jays downed Texas behind a home run from Adam Lind and a strong start from Brendan Morrow.
Meanwhile, the Rays took the daycap of a doubleheader with the Twins in convincing fashion. Tampa smashed Minnesota 15-3 behind eight RBIs from Ben Zobrist. If Zobrist is on your opponent's fantasy team this week, you can't be happy with that. Not that I would know or anything.
6:30 p.m.: If you're looking to kill time before first pitch, well, then you should be watching Red Sox Gameday Live on NESN.
If you're looking for something to do during commercials, however, then you should probably check out the debut of the NESN Podcast.
NESN.com Patriots reporter Jeff Howe took some time out of his vaunted "draft research" to talk with NESN.com Mike Hurley's about the NFL draft. It's pretty good stuff, so check it out. Jeff's also down at Gillette Stadium for the draft, and you can follow that by checking out his live blog.
6:15 p.m.: Not to be the bearer of bad news, but a loss tonight would ensure the Red Sox would return to Boston in the basement of the AL East.
Still, despite that little fact, the Sox do have the best record in the majors since April 16 at 8-3.
Also, despite a highly publicized slow start, the Red Sox are just one game off the pace of the 2010 team, a squad that also started slowly.
You may remember, too, that team actually didn't end up reaching the .500 mark for good until May 18 when they got to 20-20. From there, they won 24 of 34 games, capped by Dustin Pedroia's three-home run game to beat the Rockies on June 24. He then fouled a ball off his foot in San Francisco, and we know where things went from there.
The moral of the story? You can still consider it early.
4:48 p.m.: As promised, here's more on the lineup cards for Thursday night's game.
Marco Scutaro has had some success against Baltimore starter Brad Bergesen, which is likely much of the reason he's in Terry Francona's lineup.
Speaking of success against Orioles, Jon Lester has had a bit of success against the O's. In his short career, the lefty is 13-0 against Baltimore. According to Elias, that 13-game win streak against the Orioles is the longest active winning streak for any active pitcher against one team.
4:10 p.m.: Good afternoon, faithful followers of the live blog. Everyone's favorite Red Sox beat reporter Tony Lee is still away for a bit longer and after a couple of nights of NESN.com Patriots writer Jeff Howe doing a little Red Sox work, you're stuck with me tonight.
Anyway, according to Weather.com, the clouds have broken or are beginning to at least as the wicked weather that has ravished the East Coast made its way through Maryland. Now that it's gone, though, all signs point to baseball. And with that, here are the lineups for Thursday night's series finale.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Carl Crawford, LF
Marco Scutaro, SS
Brian Roberts, 2B
Nick Markakis, RF
Derrek Lee, 1B
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Adam Jones, CF
Matt Wieters, C
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Jake Fox, LF
Robert Andino, SS
8 a.m.: This isn't how trips to Baltimore usually go for the Red Sox. The Sox head back to Boston for a homestand on Friday, but first they'll make their third attempt at their first win against the O's on Thursday night.The Sox did everything they could to overcome a rocky start from Josh Beckett on Wednesday night, but despite a late three-run home run from Kevin Youkilis, Boston fell short in Baltimore for the second time in as many nights.
The Red Sox have already secured a winning record for their nine-game road trip, but they'll need a win on Thursday to make sure they return home out of last place in the AL East.
Terry Francona hands the ball to Jon Lester, hoping that the big left-hander can be the stopper for the Red Sox as he'll be matched up with Baltimore's Brad Bergesen.
First pitch at Camden Yards is set for 7:05 p.m.